U.S. Steel halts Mon Valley upgrades in move to carbon neutral

A major upgrade of U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works south of Pittsburgh was abruptly canceled as part of the steelmaker’s campaign to eliminate its carbon emissions by 2050, the company announced Friday.

A lengthy statement released via Twitter said that instead of committing more than $1 billion to various planned upgrades, the new plan will lead to the permanent closure of three batteries at the Clairton Coke Works, one of five plants in the Mon Valley complex, by early 2023. The batteries account for 17 percent of the coke produced at the complex.

“U.S. Steel remains committed to steelmaking in the Mon Valley for the next generation with future investments to be aligned with our 2050 carbon-neutral goal,” said the statement signed by President and CEO David Burritt. The statement was issued Friday morning following the release of its first quarter earnings the previous day, which included net earnings of $91 million.

The announcement came a week after U.S. Steel announced cancelation of a separate project to drill natural gas wells at the Edgar Thomson steel mill in East Pittsburgh.

The original plan for Mon Valley called for construction of a new casting-and-rolling facility and cogeneration power plant while keeping the venerable complex a primary source for lightweight steel used by the auto industry.

Burritt said the decision to scrap the original plan announced in 2019 was due in part to delays in the planning and permitting process caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, it was a delay in obtaining routine permits from the Alleghany County Health Department, which actually gave U.S. Steel additional time to evaluate the project and how much it would contribute to the effort to reach carbon neutrality.

“The project we planned in 2019 would have reduced our carbon footprint, but we must move further and faster,” Burritt wrote, adding, “We are on the ten-yard line with 90 yards ahead of us.”

The company had struck an agreement with the health department in 2019 to spend about $200 million to improve emission controls and other infrastructure at the Clairton plant.

Burritt did not provide any ideas that U.S. Steel might be looking at for Mon Valley, but indicated the company would likely take some of its cues from ResponsibleSteel, a global trade association for the steel industry that, Burritt said, had recently provided “guideposts, strategic pathways and business decisions.” This month, U. S. Steel became the first steel company based in North America to join ResponsibleSteel.

Hil Anderson

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