Steel Mills

USS Flip on Mon Valley Project “Heartbreaking” for Pittsburgh Community

Written by Tim Triplett

U.S. Steel’s surprise decision to pull the plug on the $1.5-billion upgrade at its Mon Valley Works pleased environmental advocates but came as a serious blow to the economic environment in the Pittsburgh area. Government officials, unions and citizen groups cried foul over what they see as the loss of thousands of jobs from a broken promise by the venerable steelmaker that has been part of their community for nearly a century.

US SteelSpeaking at a gathering of labor, energy and manufacturing executives in Pittsburgh last week, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey was quoted as saying he is “perplexed” by the decision. “Why did this look like a good project two years ago, and then two years later it’s all over?” he asked.

The decision to scrap the project is a devastating blow to the future of steelmaking in the region, said Lt. Governor and former Braddock Mayor John Fetterman in media reports. “My heart is broken for the union men and women. This would have guaranteed steelmaking in this valley for a generation.”

The Mon Valley complex includes the Irvin Works in West Mifflin, the Edgar Thompson plant in Braddock, the Clairton Coke works in Clairton, and Fairless Hills in the Philadelphia area. Combined employment is more than 3,000 workers.

U.S. Steel’s decision to cancel the major upgrades to the rolling mill and co-generation plant at its Mon Valley works will cost an estimated 1,000 high-paying construction jobs and signals a diminished future for steelmaking in the Pittsburgh region, said Jeff Nobers, executive director of the union-business alliance Pittsburgh Works.

The decision to cancel the Mon Valley upgrade comes after a two-year wait for the Allegheny County Health Department to grant permits for work to get under way. Pittsburgh Works also blamed a lack of support for the project from elected officials in the region.

“Along with a constant drumbeat of opposition from so-called environmental groups, the broad failure of local officials to rally around this massive reinvestment in the last of steelmaking in the Mon Valley reinforces the perception that the region and Pennsylvania are openly hostile to job-creators,” Nobers said. “The continuous caster was intended to allow the Mon Valley Works to manufacture lighter, stronger steel intended for the auto industry, which in turn would have resulted in more efficient cars with lower emissions. Now that won’t happen here.”

In a letter to U.S. Steel President and CEO David Burritt last week, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO called for the mill to reconsider and to reinvest in Pennsylvania. “Like countless others, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO remains shocked, disappointed, and bewildered with U.S. Steel’s decision to abruptly end the promised $1.5-billion upgrade to your Pittsburgh facilities,” the union said.

“Our 700,00 union members, including the proud United Steelworkers, have been supportive of joint efforts that both empower workers but also enhance manufacturing competitiveness. … We hope that you would reconsider this devasting decision and continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with a community who wants manufacturing, who needs manufacturing for another 100 years,” it said.

U.S. Steel management emphasizes that Mon Valley remains an important component of the company’s business. “To be clear, Mon Valley remains a structurally competitive steel-making asset in our portfolio. It is our lowest-cost steelmaking facility in our flat-rolled segment,” Burritt said during the company’s earnings call in late April. “Mon Valley will continue to serve strategic markets, including appliance and construction customers.”

In an open letter to the Pittsburgh community dated April 30, the steelmaker stated: “In the wake of the 2020 pandemic and the increased urgency of the climate crisis, we are reviewing all projects and facilities with an even greater focus on their implications for our carbon footprint. By early 2023, we will permanently idle Batteries 1, 2 and 3 at Clairton Plant, representing approximately 17% of coke production – further improving environmental performance. U.S. Steel remains committed to steelmaking in the Mon Valley for the next generation, with future investments to be developed in alignment with our 2050 carbon neutral goal.”

Steelmakers are facing intense pressure from the Biden administration to reduce emissions. U.S. Steel’s decision on Mon Valley is part of its commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. “We have evaluated how we allocate capital through the lens of sustainability, value creation, and lower capital and carbon intensity across the footprint. When facts change, we must change. And as we step forward to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, we must set aside the Mon Valley endless casting and rolling and cogeneration project,” said Burritt, adding, “This is not a decision we took lightly.”

By Tim Triplett,


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