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Northern steel plant delays new project following activists’ calls

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A Northwestern steel plant announced plans to delay relining a blast furnace in Burns Harbor, Indiana. This comes after calls from advocates to abandon its plan to lock in “dirty” steel techniques.

U.S. Steelmaker Cleveland-Cliffs announced that it is pushing its project at the second largest U.S. Steel making facility by one year to 2026. 

Advocates say they want to see the company abandon the plan altogether and invest in clean energy alternatives, like hydrogen steel making. 

“The one-year delay is better than nothing, but it’s certainly not a solution,” said Ben Inskeep, program director at the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. 

Blast furnaces need coal to operate. Relining would extend the steel plant’s life by 18 years. 

Based on EPA data, Industrious Labs, an organization that aims to decarbonize heavy industry by 2045, said relining the blast furnace would produce significant carbon dioxide over its lifetime. 

“The decisions you make today have ramifications for years or even decades into the future,” Inskeep said. “That’s why there’s this importance when we have these kinds of discrete decision points that we make the decision to switch to a cleaner pathway.”

Blast furnaces are also bad for community health. They emit toxic air pollution, including heavy metals and particulate matter. The Burns Harbor facility is Indiana’s highest industrial emitter of health-harming pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and a chemical reaction of the two, that create fine particulate matter, according to Industrious Labs. 

Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana

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“These communities in Northwestern Indiana are just so heavily burdened by industrial pollution that it’s really insulting to have to ask them to bear the burden of this kind of toxic air pollution and climate pollution from these facilities for decades more into the future,” Inskeep said. “It’s just really frustrating that the industry is not doing a better job of leading the way when it comes to addressing this legacy of environmental injustice.”

Fine particulate matter are solid or liquid droplets, 30 times smaller than a human hair, that can be inhaled. It has been linked to a variety of health problems, including premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function and increased respiratory symptoms, according to the EPA.

In February 2023, Cleveland-Cliffs settled a $3 million lawsuit stemming from their alleged involvement in a blast furnace water recirculation system failure that resulted in thousands of dead fish and the closure of public beaches on Lake Michigan.

“We urge Cleveland-Cliffs to reconsider its decision to double down on dirty steelmaking by pursuing relining,” Inskeep said. “Cleveland-Cliffs must end its assault on Hoosier communities who have endured decades of its harmful pollution and invest in clean steelmaking in Indiana today.”

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847 or by email jaydenk@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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