Press Release

Victory: Consent Decree Approved, Holds Cleveland-Cliffs Accountable for Clean Water Act Violations at Burns Harbor, IN Steel Mill

Cleveland-Cliffs to fix equipment and serious operational deficiencies, pay $3 million civil penalty, and create environmentally beneficial projects

Burns Harbor, IN. – Today marks an important victory, holding Cleveland-Cliffs accountable for its Clean Water Act violations at the Burns Harbor, IN steel mill. The consent decree agreed to by the Plaintiffs Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC), the Federal Government and State of Indiana, and Defendant Cleveland-Cliffs was approved today by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. ELPC and HEC initiated action against the steelmaker with a citizen enforcement lawsuit that was brought in 2019.

The Burns Harbor steel mill was owned by ArcelorMittal when ELPC and HEC filed their citizen enforcement lawsuit after the company exceeded its Clean Water Act permit limits on cyanide and ammonia many times, including a devastating spill in August 2019 that killed thousands of fish, threatened drinking water supply, and closed Lake Michigan beaches. The steel mill discharges into the east branch of the Little Calumet River, which flows directly into Lake Michigan.

“This is a big victory for protecting Lake Michigan, safe clean water, and Northwest Indiana communities. The consent decree holds Cleveland-Cliffs accountable for its excessive pollution and Clean Water Act permit violations, and it underscores the value of citizen enforcement lawsuits,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director.

“We’re heartened by this consent decree and we’re very hopeful that it will safeguard the extraordinary ecological treasure that is Lake Michigan from another toxic industrial spill, and 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.

The consent decree provides:

  1. Comprehensive operational and equipment upgrades to the steel mill designed to prevent future cyanide and ammonia violations.
  2. $3 million in civil penalties split between the U.S. Treasury and State of Indiana.
  3. Two significant environmentally beneficial projects as a result of Plaintiffs ELPC’s and HEC’s advocacy:
    • 127 acres of Cleveland-Cliffs property, appraised at $2 million, will be transferred to the Shirley Heinze Land Trust for restoration. The property should ultimately be added to the adjacent Indiana Dunes National Park for public use and enjoyment.
    • Cleveland-Cliffs is required to do increased water quality monitoring of Lake Michigan during the 2022 and 2023 summer months for better assurance that excessive discharges of ammonia, cyanide and other pollutants are promptly identified.
  4. Improved public notification procedures and requirements if/when spills occur. ArcelorMittal delayed notifying public officials and the general public when the August 2019 excessive discharges of ammonia and cyanide occurred. The company then provided public notice several days later and only after 3,000 dead fish showed up floating in the lake.

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