Here’s what is happening with Surfrider’s case against U. S. Steel that was launched in 2018. Our case currently remains stayed (i.e. on hold) pending the decision on a proposed government settlement with U. S. Steel in the related case that USEPA and other agencies brought, but recent activity has left us hopeful that there will soon be more progress!
As you might recall, our case is one of two ongoing against U. S. Steel after U. S. Steel’s April 2017 spill of hexavalent chromium at the Portage Lakefront, and the other was brought by a group of state and federal government agencies. The Governments initially proposed a Consent Decree on the same day that they filed suit, which we – and many other members of the public and organizations -- criticized during the following open comment period. In November 2019, the Governments moved to enter a revised Consent Decree (a type of settlement agreement), which we still oppose on the basis that it does not address the persistent operations and maintenance failures at the plant that have continued even though US Steel has implemented the improvements required under the Consent Decree. (For more, check out this Surfrider blog post.) The Governments' case is currently awaiting a ruling on a revised Consent Decree, and our case is stayed pending that decision.
Both our case and the Governments' case were recently transferred to a new judge, Judge DeGuilio, an appointee of President Obama. He hasn’t yet ruled on the proposed revised Consent Decree, but in the meantime he has limited Surfrider’s role as an “intervenor” party in that case; we’ll need to reserve the more recent U.S. Steel violations for our separate lawsuit once it resumes. This week, we’re filing an amended complaint in line with Judge DeGuilio’s instructions.
Though we cannot be certain of Judge DeGuilio's ultimate ruling, this recent movement seems to suggest that he is carefully considering the many pieces of this case, and that there is more to come. Of course, we can never predict a judge's ruling, and have been preparing to move forward with our case whether the revised Consent Decree is accepted or rejected. Please feel free to reach out with any questions about any of this!
– University of Chicago Abrams Environmental Law Clinic team (Alex, Brenna, Brittney, Gwen)