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Progressives Call for Embrace of 'Green Steel' Manufacturing

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, May 24, 2023

"It's time that the steel industry take the growing need and demand for fossil-free steel seriously," said one advocate.

Progressive organizers on Wednesday urged steelmakers to swiftly adopt the clean manufacturing methods needed to achieve a shift from coal-based steel to "green steel."

At the Great Designs in Steel conference held in a Detroit suburb, Public Citizen and Mighty Earth activists used a series of digital ads and mobile billboards to call on industry insiders and automotive executives to accelerate the nascent transition from dirty to clean steel by fully embracing low- to zero-carbon production processes—one of many changes that scientists say are necessary to avert the worst consequences of the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.

"Steel manufacturing remains one of the most energy-intensive and polluting aspects of making a vehicle, but there are solutions to clean it up," Erika Thi Patterson, supply chain campaigns director at Public Citizen, said in a statement. "As companies and governments work to meet net-zero climate commitments, it's time that the steel industry take the growing need and demand for fossil-free steel seriously and embrace the cleaner technologies that exist today."

"Insiders at this conference," Patterson continued, "need to recognize the inevitability of green transportation and move in that direction quickly and forcefully."

At the conference venue, mobile billboards denounced steelmaker Cleveland-Cliffs Inc.'s recent announcement that it plans to stick with coal-powered blast furnaces in the near term. Rival company U.S. Steel, by contrast, is ramping up the use of lower-emission electric arc furnaces at its mini-mills.

Billboards with the message, "Cleveland-Cliffs: Ditch the past, embrace the Green Steel future!" circled the venue for the duration of the meeting.

Steel built the Rust Belt. Green steel could help rebuild it

By Katie Myers - Grist, May 11, 2023

In the Mon Valley of western Pennsylvania, steel was once a way of life, one synonymous with the image of rural, working-class Rust Belt communities. At its height in 1910, Pittsburgh alone produced 25 million tons of it, or 60 percent of the nation’s total. Bustling mills linger along the Monongahela River and around Pittsburgh, but employment has been steadily winding down for decades.

Though President Trump promised a return to the idealized vision of American steelmaking that Bruce Springsteen might sing about, the industry has changed since its initial slump four decades ago. Jobs declined 49 percent between 1990 and 2021, when increased efficiency saw the sector operating at its highest capacity in 14 years. Despite ongoing supply chain hiccups and inflation, demand continues growing globally, particularly in Asia. But even as demand for this essential material climbs, so too does the pressure to decarbonize its production.

Earlier this month, the progressive Ohio River Valley Institute released a study that found a carefully planned transition to “green” steel — manufactured using hydrogen generated with renewable energy — could be a climatic and economic boon. It argues that as countries work toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, a green steel boom in western Pennsylvania could help the U.S. meet that goal, make its steel industry competitive again, and employ a well-paid industrial workforce.

“A transition to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could grow total jobs supported by steelmaking in the region by 27 percent to 43 percent by 2031, forestalling projected job losses,” the study noted. “Regional jobs supported by traditional steelmaking are expected to fall by 30 percent in the same period.”

Green Steel in the Ohio River Valley: The Timing is Right for the Rebirth of a Clean, Green Steel Industry

By Jacqueline Ebner, Ph.D., Kathy Hipple, Nick Messenger, and Irina Spector, MBA - Bob Muehlenkamp, April 17, 2023

For more than a century, steel has played an important role in the economy and culture of the Ohio River Valley. But the traditional method of making steel, known as BF-BOF (blast furnace-blast oxygen furnace), requires lots of energy and produces lots of climate-warming emissions. The iron and steel sector is currently responsible for about 7% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

Shifting to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost jobs, and grow the region’s economy. Fossil fuel-free DRI-EAF (direct reduced iron-electric arc furnace) steelmaking uses green hydrogen—created with wind and solar energy—to make steel with nearly zero climate-warming emissions.

Investing in fossil fuel-free steelmaking is a win for the climate and the economy. This report looks at Mon Valley Works, a steelmaking facility in southwestern Pennsylvania, as a model for transitioning from carbon-intensive BF-BOF steelmaking to fossil fuel-free DRI-EAF steelmaking.

Key takeaways:

  • A transition to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could grow total jobs supported by steelmaking in the region by 27% to 43% by 2031, forestalling projected job losses. Regional jobs supported by traditional steelmaking are expected to fall by 30% in the same period, data show.
  • Transitioning to fossil fuel-free steelmaking will cut Pennsylvania’s industrial sector emissions by 4 million metric tons of CO2e per year, improving quality of life and saving the state $380 million in health, community, and environmental costs.
  • The Ohio River Valley is uniquely positioned to become a decarbonized industrial hub. A skilled workforce with applicable manufacturing experience, ready access to water and iron ore, and high potential for solar, wind, and green hydrogen development situate the region to lead a growing green manufacturing industry.
  • Billions in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act will boost demand for American-made steel while supporting worker retraining programs, hydrogen infrastructure, and renewable energy development.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Canadian steel, concrete, aluminum and wood: low carbon solutions for public infrastructure

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 2, 2021

In a February 1 press release, Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada of the United Steelworkers says, “We need our governments to support the creation and retention of good jobs by strengthening Canadian industrial and manufacturing capacities in ways that support the low-carbon transition of the economy”. To support that point, Blue Green Canada has released a new report, Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution . Buy Clean calls for the use of Canadian-made building products in infrastructure in order to reap the dual benefit of reducing carbon emissions and supporting local industry and jobs. The USW press release continues: “Buy Clean makes sense for Canada because it leverages our carbon advantage. Whether its steel, aluminum, cement or wood, building materials sourced from within Canada are typically lower carbon than imported materials” – thanks largely to our low-emissions energy supply and reduced transportation costs. The report recommends that all levels of government continue and expand the use of Buy Clean policies for procurement. The report also calls for an Industrial Decarbonization Strategy to encourage technological innovation in the manufacture of steel, aluminum, concrete and wood , and for a “Clean Infrastructure Challenge Fund” , to act as a demonstration fund modelled on the Low Carbon Economy Challenge, but available only for public infrastructure projects, not to private industry.

Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution is also available in a French-language version, Acheter Propre: Créer des emplois et réduire la pollution par une utilisation judicieuse des fonds publics en construction . The report includes appendices for each of the sectors, providing brief but specific summaries of how Canadian industry has already achieved lower carbon processes than their competitors – particularly in steel and aluminum, and what further decarbonization opportunities remain.

The Buy Clean message seems closely related to the Stand Up for Steel national campaign by the United Steelworkers, which also calls for the use of Canadian-made steel in infrastructure projects. After the disruptive tariffs levied by the previous U.S. administration, the Stand up for Steel Action Plan also calls for the right for unions to initiate trade cases; for expanding the definition of ‘material injury’ in trade cases; and for a carbon border adjustment on imported steel.

Remembering the Deadly Donora Smog

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, October 27, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

DONORA, PA — Forty-six years ago this week, a thick noxious cloud enveloped Donora, a steel mill town on a lush hillside above the Monongahela River 37 miles south of Pittsburgh. Residents were used to pollution from the town’s cluster of industries that formed the bedrock of the region’s economy making steel, wire and nails.

They were used to plumes of smoke billowing into the sky and seeing everything covered in red dust from the iron ore used to make steel, as Charles Stacey, a long-time resident, teacher and local historian, told In These Times on a visit in June.  

Stacey grew up by the river across from the Donora Zinc Works, where no vegetation grew because of the fumes.

“I didn’t see grass until I was 50,” he says. “Air pollution was a way of life in Donora. You put your hand out and you couldn’t see the tip of your fingers. You could trip off a curb because you couldn’t see. But usually by lunchtime, the wind would blow it away.”

On October 26, 1948, a Tuesday, the cloud did not move by lunchtime or by evening. The cloud didn’t lift the next day, or the next. The annual Halloween parade was held on Friday as usual, but you couldn’t see across the street. People struggled to breathe during the high school football game on Saturday.

Stacey, who was 16 at the time, described valiant firefighters going house to house checking on residents, carrying oxygen tanks, crawling and feeling their way along the streets they had grown up on because walking made it too difficult to see and breathe.

Investigations would later confirm that a temperature inversion, a layer of warm air hovering above the valley, was preventing the dissipation of air pollution from the mills—specifically from Donora Zinc Works, which produced a toxic blend of sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, fluoride and other compounds.

Officials at U.S. Steel Corp., owner of the mills and the zinc works, maintained that the situation was not caused by their operations. For several days, the company refused to shut down despite public pleas to do so. The zinc works finally halted operations on Sunday. After a rain fell soon afterwards, the air began to clear.

At least 20 deaths were attributed to the pollution, and up to 7,000 people fell ill or were hospitalized. The total death toll could be pegged at more than 70, according to some reports, by comparing normal mortality rates with rates in the month following. The incident became known as the Donora Smog.

Read the entire article, here.

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