For immediate release

March 21, 2024

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Ariana Criste

Advocates Urge Biden to Assess U.S. Steel Sale through Health and Climate Lens

Letter calls for transition plans, new green steel investments, health and worker protections

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Over a dozen climate, environmental justice, and consumer advocacy organizations sent a letter to the Biden administration today urging them to evaluate any potential U.S. Steel sale through a health and climate lens. U.S. Steel announced its Strategic Alternatives Process evaluating offers to buy part or all of the company in August 2023. The letter exposes U.S. Steel's operations' health and climate toll and calls for direct investment in sustainable alternatives to coal-based steelmaking.

"What’s really for sale here is U.S. Steel's legacy of pollution. President Biden must seize the opportunity to reverse the harmful trends of coal-based steelmaking and instead invest in globally leading technology that protects our climate and public health,” said Hilary Lewis, Steel Director at Industrious Labs. “Ensuring a green steel transition through this sale perfectly aligns with President Biden’s vision of reshoring, repowering, and decarbonizing our economy.”

U.S. Steel's operations are significant greenhouse gas emitters, releasing around 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year — the equivalent of five coal-fired power plants. This largely comes from three facilities with coal-burning blast furnaces in Northwest Indiana, the Mon Valley in Pennsylvania, and the recently idled Granite City facility in East St. Louis, Illinois, which faces an uncertain future.

“The workers of Granite City and the East St. Louis community have a right to know what the future holds,” said Virginia Woulfe-Beile of Sierra Club Illinois. “Decisions on the future of U.S. Steel's operations must actively involve those who are most impacted so President Biden can secure investments in a future that protects our workers' livelihoods and upholds the surrounding communities' health and well-being.”

Beyond climate emissions, these plants produce thousands of tons of hazardous air pollutants annually, harming adjacent communities. According to Industrious Labs' analysis, these mills rank among the top emitters of NOx, SO2, particulate matter (PM2.5), and metal chemicals in their states, contributing to a range of health issues and even mortalities. This pollution disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income families, underscoring the historic and current environmental injustices of coal-based steelmaking.

"U.S. Steel has a notorious legacy of pollution and broken promises to communities like Pittsburgh's Mon Valley," stated Matthew Mehalik, Executive Director at Breathe Project. “Without additional scrutiny and safeguards from the Biden administration, this deal threatens to lock in more decades of unchecked emissions and continued health problems.”

"The Biden administration has made significant strides in decarbonizing our economy. This deal is a crucial opportunity to further that progress for the steel sector,” said Chris Chyung, Executive Director of Indiana Conservation Voters. “Whoever owns these facilities must be a good neighbor to northwest Indiana and the United Steelworkers, prioritize investments that protect community health, and slash the climate pollution of its operations."

U.S. Steel employs approximately 14,500 workers, 80% of whom are represented by unions. The letter called for transparent, equitable transition plans and no new investments extending coal-based steelmaking. Such plans must ensure the maintenance of union contracts and foster community benefit agreements that safeguard and enhance public health across all U.S. Steel activities, now and into the future.

"By requiring a transition to green steel as a condition of any deal, the Biden administration can generate thousands of good jobs and revitalize communities affected by industrial decline,” said Joanne Kilgour, Executive Director at the Ohio River Valley Institute. “As our recent study demonstrated, investing in fossil fuel-free steelmaking could boost steel industry jobs in the Ohio River Valley by 27% to 43% by 2031, offsetting expected job declines."

U.S. Steel announced in December 2023 that it would proceed with an offer from Japanese steelmaking giant Nippon Steel. In the following months, foreign policy experts, workers, policymakers, and the President have weighed in on the deal. However, climate and health concerns have been notably absent from the conversation.

For a long time steelmaking meant compromising public health for creating good-paying jobs;  advancements now allow us to prioritize both,” said Yong Kwon, Senior Policy Advisor at the Sierra Club. “We’ve witnessed fossil fuel-free steelmaking abroad and urge any American steelmakers working with international partners to focus on adopting this sustainable approach.”

U.S. Steel currently makes iron for the steelmaking process in coal-based blast furnaces. However, clean, modern technology can eliminate coal and other fossil fuels, dramatically reducing climate and health-harming air pollution.