February 14, 2022
Burns Harbor, IN. – In a significant victory for the environment and Northwest Indiana residents, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC), and Federal Government and the State of Indiana entered into a consent decree with steel mill owner Cleveland-Cliffs. The consent decree was filed today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, and it should serve as a cautionary tale for other potential corporate polluters.
The Burns Harbor facility was owned by ArcelorMittal when ELPC and HEC filed a lawsuit in 2019 after the steel mill exceeded its Clean Water Act permit limits on cyanide and ammonia dozens of times, including a devastating spill in August 2019 that killed thousands of fish and closed Lake Michigan beaches. The steel mill discharges into the east branch of the Little Calumet River, which flows directly into Lake Michigan.
The consent decree includes comprehensive operational upgrades to the steel mill to prevent future cyanide and ammonia violations; $3 million in civil penalties split between Indiana and the U.S. Treasury; improved notification procedures; and significant environmental projects that will benefit residents in the region, including a transfer of Cleveland-Cliffs property adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that will be placed into a land trust.
“This consent decree demonstrates our ability to hold corporate polluters accountable for violating environmental laws and permit requirements,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “We’re putting industrial operators on notice that the waters of Northwest Indiana can’t be polluted without consequence. These accomplishments were achieved by the hard work of our ELPC legal team including Rob Michaels, Kiana Courtney, Jeff Hammons and me. Our engagement here shows the Clean Water Act’s citizen suit enforcement provisions protect people and the environment.”
“We’re heartened by this consent decree and we’re very hopeful that it will not only safeguard the extraordinary ecological treasure that is Lake Michigan from another toxic industrial spill but elevate environmental protection across Northwest Indiana, which has several communities that have borne a special burden of environmental injustice for far too long,” said Jesse Kharbanda, HEC’s Executive Director. “I want to thank ELPC for their exceptional legal representation of HEC, EPA and IDEM Staff for their very considerable legal and technical work, and HEC’s Dr. Indra Frank, Tim Maloney, and Kim Ferraro for their very valuable input.”
The consent decree resolves all claims in Plaintiffs ELPC’s and HEC’s 2019 citizen enforcement lawsuit, and it provides the full suite of remedies available under the Clean Water Act.