Cleveland-Cliffs Delays 68 Million Tonne Pollution Decision
(Cleveland, Ohio)—Following calls from advocates to abandon its plan to reline a blast furnace in Burns Harbor, Indiana, and instead invest in green steel, U.S. steelmaker Cleveland-Cliffs announced that it is pushing this project by one year to 2026. During the same Q2 Earnings Call, it also announced that the blast furnace at its Middletown, Ohio plant would be next in line for relining as early as 2027.
Cleveland-Cliffs is the largest supplier of steel to the automotive industry in North America. As steel makes up about 65% of the current average vehicles, automakers can leverage their purchasing power to ensure steel suppliers, like Cleveland-Cliffs, step away from harmful steel production and lean into clean and equitably made steel.
“Delaying the relining in Burns Harbor is an opportunity for Cleveland-Cliffs to show that it’s listening to demands from automakers like GM and climate advocates to invest in green steel. Relining blast furnaces is a red line for the climate. We will be watching closely,” said Margaret Hansbrough, SteelWatch Campaign Lead.
Blast furnaces make iron from iron ore at high temperatures using coking coal, which releases significant pollution. The process of manufacturing steel is responsible for up to around 8% of current global greenhouse gas emissions. Blast furnace relining, an investment that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, is necessary for the continuous operation of current dirty integrated steel plants. Relining extends a coal-burning steel plant’s life by an estimated 18 years, pushing the sector further away from the trajectory required to decarbonize. Based on EPA data, Industrious Labs estimates that these two relines would result in more than 128 million tonnes of CO2e over the lifetime of the projects, equivalent to burning more than 705,000 railcars of coal.
“We urge Cleveland-Cliffs to reconsider its decision to double down on dirty steelmaking by pursuing relining,” said Ben Inskeep, Program Director at Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. “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.”
In addition to climate pollution, blast furnaces emit toxic air pollution into neighboring communities, including heavy metals and particulate matter, leading to adverse health outcomes. The Burns Harbor plant is Indiana’s highest industrial emitter of the health-harming pollutants NOx, SO2 and PM2.5. Similarly, the Middletown steel mill ranks among Ohio’s top three industrial emitters of these hazardous substances. Residents in the communities nearby
Cleveland-Cliffs facilities have expressed concerns about the air pollution impacts of investments in coal-powered steelmaking.
“Heavy metals, horrific odors and particulate matter are constantly spewed into the homes, schools, and businesses near Middletown Works,” said Donna Ballinger, a Middletown, Ohio resident. “Cleveland-Cliffs’ plan to extend the life of its dirty blast furnace is deeply disheartening, as it will exacerbate pollution in our community, despite the historic funding available to clean up and modernize the steel industry.”
Cliffs also announced “Cliffs H” a $40 per ton surcharge for all their blast furnace steel which uses hot briquetted iron (HBI), a form of solid iron ore that can be used as a feedstock in steelmaking. Cliffs currently makes HBI with methane gas, but they are charging more for it because of the “role that HBI has played in our carbon reduction goals.” Cliffs has not released an Environmental Product Declaration to demonstrate any emissions reductions. Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves suggested this price premium could be absorbed by Cliffs’ automotive customers, who account for more than a third of Cliffs’ customers.
“Instead of greenwashing dirty blast furnace steel, Cleveland Cliffs should offer genuinely fossil-free steel,” said Erika Thi Patterson, auto supply chain campaign director with Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “Switching from coal to fossil gas doesn’t absolve Cleveland Cliffs or its auto industry buyers from the impacts this steel manufacturing process will have on our climate. The only green steel is steel made without fossil fuels.”
Automakers are uniquely positioned to pressure Cleveland-Cliffs and other steel manufacturers towards green steel. By leveraging their immense steel purchasing power, automakers can hold manufacturers accountable and establish a new, greener standard for the industry as a whole.
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