Report Finds Rapidly Growing “Green” Energy Industry Releases Dangerous Air Pollution in AL

Report Finds Rapidly Growing “Green” Energy Industry Releases Dangerous Air Pollution in AL

Report Finds Rapidly Growing “Green” Energy Industry Releases Dangerous Air Pollution in Alabama

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Half of Wood Pellet Plants in U.S. Violate Pollution Limits or Fail to Install Required Emissions Control Equipment

Media Contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org or (202) 888-2703

Washington, D.C. (April 26, 2018) — A booming new industry that cuts down forests in the U.S. South to generate electricity in Europe, under the false pretense that burning wood pellets is carbon neutral, releases vast amounts of dangerous and illegal air pollution, including in Alabama, according to a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project. Alabama has three large wood pellet plants today, but that number is expected to double.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Monday (April 23) announced a new Trump Administration policy to encourage the “forest biomass” energy industry by claiming that the burning of wood pellets is carbon neutral.

“Cutting down forests to burn to generate electricity is not in any way ‘green’ or carbon neutral – and in fact, creates a large amount of air pollution,” said Patrick Anderson, co-author of the EIP report, titled, “Dirty Deception.” “Even if the trees are replanted, not all survive – and those that do will take decades or centuries to grow to the same size, and therefore the same carbon dioxide absorbing potential of the trees that were eliminated.”

The report’s authors examined federal and state records for 21 wood pellet plants from Virginia to Texas and concluded that one third of them (7 out of 21) violated their permits in 2017 by releasing illegal amounts of air pollution, while another four had faulty permits issued by states that failed to require pollution control equipment required by the federal Clean Air Act.

Overall, more than half of the wood pellet plants (11 out of 21) either failed to keep emissions below legal limits or failed to install required pollution controls, according to the report.

The federal budget bill signed by President Trump on March 23 contains a provision that encourages more burning of wood pellets like this for electricity, with an inaccurate claim that the “biomass” industry is good for the climate.

“With the Trump Administration and Congress now encouraging this crazy notion that clearcutting forests is helpful to the environment, it’s important that we have an accurate accounting of just how much air pollution these wood pellet plants actually produce,” said Anderson, an attorney with Powell Environmental Law, which wrote the report for EIP. “The records show that the biomass industry releases not only millions of tons of greenhouse gases, but also tons of soot particles that can trigger asthma and heart attacks, as well as carcinogens and smog-forming pollutants.”

The wood pellet industry has grown almost 10-fold in the U.S. since 2009. It is being driven by a loophole in the European Union’s carbon accounting system that is based on the mistaken notion that burning wood is carbon neutral and therefore good for the climate, because replanted trees absorb carbon dioxide. In fact, replanted trees take many decades to grow enough to absorb as much carbon dioxide as the trees cut down for the industry, and not all the saplings survive.

In the midst of the industry’s fast growth, relatively little attention has been paid to the high levels of air pollution generated by wood pellet manufacturing plants, emissions that can trigger a wide array of health and environmental problems.

In Alabama, there are three wood pellet plants, the largest of which are Mohegan Renewable Energy (formerly Lee Energy Solutions) near Birmingham, and Zilkha Biomass, near Selma. Three additional new mills are proposed in the state. According to federal and state records, the three existing plants together annually release 499 tons of soot (fine particle pollution that triggers asthma and heart attacks), 999 tons of volatile organic compounds (which contribute to smog), 584 tons of nitrogen oxide air pollution (which feed low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico), and 649,836 tons of carbon dioxide (which contributes to global warming.) These pollution totals are expected to roughly double if the three new plants are built, as planned.

“While the wood biomass industry masquerades as ‘renewable energy,’ these plants are releasing dirty pollution into the air we breathe,” said Michael Hansen, Executive Director of a Birmingham-based nonprofit called Gasp that is devoted to fighting for clean air. “Air pollution is the single greatest environmental risk factor for premature death and disease in the world — and those hurt the most are kids, seniors, pregnant women, and people suffering from chronic diseases.”

Across the U.S., the Environmental Integrity Project investigation found that 21 U.S. wood pellet mills currently exporting to Europe emit a total of 16,000 tons of health-threatening air pollutants per year, including more than 2,500 tons of particulate matter (soot), 3,200 tons of nitrogen oxides, 2,100 tons of carbon monoxide, and 7,000 tons of volatile organic compounds. These plants also emit 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, according to the study.

Other key findings of the report:

  • Of the 15 largest operating wood pellet facilities, at least eight have had fires or explosions since 2014, including at factories in North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, and Texas that released large amounts of air pollution or injured employees.
  • A factory northeast of Houston owned by German Pellets has emitted nearly ten times its permitted limits of volatile organic compound pollution since it began operation in 2013, releasing 580 tons per year. Rather than require the facility to comply with legal limits, Texas officials are proposing to simply raise the limits to let the facility continue to emit dangerous levels of pollution.
  • At the Enviva Biomass wood pellet plant in Southampton County, Virginia, plant operators actually removed the pollution control equipment to evade upgrade requirements and switched from processing softwood to hardwood, which results in more carbon dioxide pollution and other harmful environmental impacts.

“It’s time for states to pump the brakes on an industry that has been deceiving investors, decision-makers, and communities from day one — whether it’s misleading the public about their wood sourcing, evading community input in the permitting process, or skirting clean air quality standards,” said Emily Zucchino of the Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit that works to protect Southern forests and communities from destructive industrial logging. “State governors and agencies need to do right by communities, instead of allowing companies like Enviva to continue to grow unchecked which harms public health, forests and the climate.”

One of the most troubling trends in the wood pellet industry discussed in the report is that facilities that should face the most rigorous air permitting standards are actually the least controlled and dirtiest.

Under a Clean Air Act program called “new source review,” new or modified major sources of air pollution are required to reduce emissions to the level achievable by using the best available control technology.

Contrary to that legal requirement, states allow construction of the country’s largest wood pellet manufacturing plants without controls, or with inadequate controls, for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), an air pollutant that causes smog and respiratory problems.

This is despite the fact that extremely effective VOC controls capable of reducing emissions by 90 to 95 percent are in widespread use at similar wood pellet manufacturing plants. For instance, in North Carolina, wood dryers at two recently permitted wood pellet factories owned by Enviva Biomass emit nearly six times more VOCs and 50 to 60 times more hazardous air pollutants than comparable facilities with appropriate pollution control systems.

“This industry is creating a public health hazard that can easily be avoided – because we already have the technology available to filter and capture this air pollution,” said Keri N. Powell, co-author of the EIP report and Director of Powell Environmental Law. “The solution is for states to enforce the law and require wood pellet plants to install the best available technology.”

In other instances, states allow facilities to emit air pollution well beyond legal limits for years at a time, according to the “Dirty Deception” report. In Mississippi, Florida, and North Carolina, state permitting authorities continue to allow wood pellet manufacturing plants to emit well above a 250 ton per year threshold before facilities are required to install air pollution controls.

For example, the Drax wood pellet plant in Amite County, Mississippi, near McComb, emits more than 900 tons per year of VOCs – more than three times the amount that normally triggers a requirement for the installation of best available pollution control equipment.

The report makes several recommendations for addressing the problem, including:

  1. Requiring states to reexamine existing air permits for wood pellet plants in light of new testing that shows much higher emissions of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants.
  2. Require that all major sources of air pollution to install the best available control technology.
  3. Require annual emissions testing for volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants from all of the major emission points at pellet mills.
  4. Reduce the risk of fires and explosions by requiring wood pellet facilities to comply with their duty under the federal Clean Air Act to design and maintain safe facilities.

For a copy of the report, visit www.environmentalintegrity.org

QUOTES FROM LOCAL RESIDENTS CONCERNED ABOUT THE INDUSTRY:

Mississippi: “It is past time for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to step up and protect the public health and safety of Mississippians from this pollution source as required by law,” said Louie Miller, State Director of the Sierra Club’s Mississippi Chapter. “Mississippi should not be known as the ‘cheap date’ for polluting industries.”

Texas: “Residents who live in Woodville, TX, near the pellet factory have grave concerns about the repeated fires at the plant, and they report health problems that went away once it closed,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “It’s time for environmental officials to take this bull by the horns and treat these issues with the seriousness that they deserve.”

Florida: “The Enviva Mill in Jackson County (near Panama City) has been violating the Clean Air Act for years by emitting hundreds of tons of unlawful and dangerous air pollution,” said Jennifer Rubiello, State Director of Environment Florida. “It’s time for Florida to step up and require Enviva to install legally-required air pollution controls, just as Georgia and Alabama have done for similar facilities. Not only are Enviva Mill’s actions against the law, but in this day and age when we have the technology to keep our air clean, there is no reason not to protect the health of all Floridians.”

Georgia: “Georgians have first-hand experience with the dangers posed by this industry,” said Vicki Weeks, Georgia State Coordinator for the Dogwood Alliance. “Their plants are typically sited in poor rural areas where communities with little access to effective health care are being hard hit by their unchecked air pollution.”

North Carolina: “The non-stop pollution, dust, noise, and truck traffic the Enviva pellet mill brings to Northampton County is a grave injustice to this community,” said Belinda Joyner founder of Concerned Citizens of Northampton County. “They have no respect for the people who live here, and they give nothing back – so we demand action.”

South Carolina: “Entire communities across the South are waking up to the damage these rapacious pellet companies are doing to our environment,” said Alectron Dorfman, chairman of Lakelands Citizens for Clean Air. “In the Lakelands area of Greenwood and Laurens Counties, the dramatic increase in production and pollution at the Enviva plant in Columbo is cause for great concern among our citizens for the quality of our air and the future of our forests.”

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 15-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington D.C., dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.

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‘It’s Time for Pruitt to Resign, or Be Removed’

‘It’s Time for Pruitt to Resign, or Be Removed’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 18, 2018

MEDIA CONTACT:
Adam Beitman, adam.beitman@sierraclub.org or 202-670-5585

NAACP, SEIU, Union of Concerned Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, OCEANA & More Take out Full Page Ads in the New York Times, New York Post, and Oklahoma’s Largest Newspaper.

NEW YORK CITY (April 18, 2018)— Forty national civil rights, labor, conservation and environmental organizations representing millions of members and supporters across the United States have taken out a series of full page ads Wednesday calling for the resignation or firing of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. On Monday, the Government Accountability Office reported that some of Pruitt’s behavior violates the law.

The ads appear in the main news sections of The New York Times, the New York Post (which Donald Trump receives each day), and the largest newspaper in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma, The Oklahoman.

** Link to the Ad **

These new nationwide organizations calling for Pruitt’s ouster add to a growing chorus, including:

  • Editorial boards ranging from The Houston Chronicle and The Joplin Globe to The Washington Post and The LA Times
  • Over 100 Democrats in the House & Senate
  • At least three Republican members of the House
  • Increasing public pressure from other Republicans including House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy who suggested Pruitt should become ‘a monk’ if he wanted to avoid having his feelings hurt, rather than taking first class flights at taxpayer expense.

THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZATIONS ARE REPRESENTED ON THE LETTER:

National Audubon Society – NAACP – Union of Concerned Scientists – SEIU – Physicians for Social Responsibility – Oceana – Sierra Club – Earthjustice – Green For All – Natural Resources Defense Council – League of Conservation Voters – Hip Hop Caucus – GreenLatinos – Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Ocean Conservancy – The Wilderness Society – National Parks Conservation Association – Clean Water Action – Greenpeace USA – American Rivers – Defenders of Wildlife – Environment America – Moms Clean Air Force – Latino Victory Project – Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments – Oil Change International – Montana Environmental Information Center – Alliance for Climate Education – Brighter Green – Partnership for Policy Integrity – Gasp – SustainUS – Carmelite NGO – Alliance for Affordable Energy – Power Shift Network – Rhode Island Interfaith Power & Light – iMatter Youth – Elders Climate Action – Green the Church – Climate Wise Women – Friends of the Earth

SIGNATORY ORGANIZATIONS PROVIDED THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS:

SEIU, Executive Vice President Luisa Blue:

“Scott Pruitt’s extravagant spending of the public’s money makes crystal clear what we already know from his policies: he just doesn’t care about the American people. As the largest union of healthcare workers, SEIU members care for people with asthma, cancer and others who have been impacted by the environment. Pruitt’s actions to pull back environmental protections will quicken the devastating impact of climate change, putting the profits of polluting corporations ahead of the health and safety of our families. Pruitt’s actions are an attack on SEIU members and their families who live in communities that already struggle for clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.”

Union of Concerned Scientists, President Ken Kimmell:

“While Scott Pruitt clearly violated ethical standards and bilked taxpayers, he inflicted far worse injury on our children, families, and communities by sidelining science and abandoning the EPA’s public health and environmental mission.”

Latino Victory Project, President Cristóbal J. Alex:

“Scott Pruitt wasted taxpayers’ dollars on luxury travel and soundproof phone booths while cutting vital EPA programs, directly hurting Latinos across the United States. Latinos live on the front lines of the climate change crisis, with half of all U.S. Latinos living in the country’s most polluted cities and Latino children at greater risk of dying from asthma than white children. The job of the EPA Administrator is to protect our natural resources and the health of all Americans, and Pruitt is clearly not up to the task.”

Earthjustice, President Trip Van Noppen

“Beyond his mounting ethical lapses Scott Pruitt has made it his mission to dismantle the many safeguards Americans depend on for clean water, clean air and more with little respect of the law. Scott Pruitt needs to go and until then we will see him in court.”

GreenLatinos, President Mark Magana

“Instead of doing his job to protect our health and environment – especially in marginalized communities and communities of color – Scott Pruitt has wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on luxury travel and unapproved pay raises for close aides, and has become the subject of multiple independent government investigations. He has endangered our communities with reckless rollbacks and repeals of lifesaving health safeguards, making our air dirtier and our water more dangerous to drink. He’s putting families at risk, and it’s been time for him to resign.”

Ocean Conservancy, CEO Janis Searles Jones

“In the 14 months that he’s been EPA Administrator, Pruitt has intentionally and methodically dismantled protections for our ocean, clean water and clean air. Among his many misguided decisions, he’s proposed a budget that would completely eliminate essential EPA functions including keeping our beaches safe from pathogens, monitoring contaminants in the fish we eat and gutting the marine pollution program. It’s time for Scott Pruitt to go. We cannot afford an EPA administrator who actively undermines the health of our ocean.”

Clean Water Action, President Bob Wendelgass:

“When Scott Pruitt isn’t doing everything he can to try to weaken protections for clean water and public health, he’s wasting taxpayer money or flouting the rules to pad the pockets of his friends and protect the bottom lines of corporate polluters. His destructive agenda and his corrupt behavior go hand-in-hand — he thinks he can get away with both if he keeps giving special interests what they want. It’s dangerous behavior from a public official and it has to stop. Scott Pruitt needs to go.”

Physicians for Social Responsibility, Jeff Carter

“As a public official, Scott Pruitt has shown a lot more interest in whatever perks and advantages he can extract from his position than in advancing the mission of the agency he was tasked to run. He attacks environmental rules and regulations with a prosecutor’s zeal, but with a view of the law not as an instrument of justice, but as a card in a stacked deck, designed to further empower and enrich special interests at the expense of health, the environment, and the less powerful.”

Hip Hop Caucus, Rev Lennox Yearwood Jr., President & CEO

“Pruitt puts his ego and polluter profits over people. It’s outrageous that he thinks he can waste our taxpayer dollars with no consequences. What’s even more tragic is that he continues to roll the dice with our lives. His actions continue to undermine our health and the future of the planet. He needs to go now.”

National Parks Conservation Association, President & CEO Theresa Pierno:

“From day one, Scott Pruitt has demonstrated time and again that his goal is not to hold
the very polluters jeopardizing our air, waters and national parks accountable, but instead to protect them. The Environmental Protection Agency should do just that—protect the environment. The agency, and all it was created to safeguard, deserves a leader befitting of this critical work. As we feared at his confirmation, and as he has shown in the time since, Scott Pruitt is not that person.”

Sierra Club, Executive Director Michael Brune:

“Scott Pruitt is the definition of the swamp, with new ethical and abuse of power scandals breaking virtually every day for the past two weeks. Its past time for Pruitt to resign or be fired, particularly now that some of his most absurd actions are being ruled illegal. Every day Scott Pruitt stays at the EPA is another day he embarasses Donald Trump, and our entire country.”

Natural Resources Defense Council, President Rhea Suh:

“With each new investigation, Scott Pruitt’s disregard for ethics and the rule of law is becoming increasingly egregious and unacceptable. And so is his blatant hostility to the central mission of the EPA, which is to protect public health and the environment. Enough is enough. It’s time for him to go.’”

Greenpeace USA, Executive Director Annie Leonard

“Scott Pruitt’s brazen disrespect for both the environment and our democracy is beyond offensive–it’s one of the most catastrophic consequences of the Trump administration. Scott Pruitt is insulting every person in America by living a life of luxury on the taxpayer’s dime while committed to destroying our environment, our air, our water, and our climate. It’s time for Scott Pruitt to resign, or be fired, before he does any more damage to our country.”

iMatter Youth, Maddie Adkins, Core Team:

“Future generations will have to deal with the consequences of climate change. If the administrator of the EPA cannot be trusted to make decisions that will preserve the planet and protect the futures of our country’s youth, then he needs to go.”
Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Executive Director Katie Huffling

“As a public health agency, the EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. In his tenure at the EPA, Scott Pruitt has rolled back essential public health safeguards, which are putting communities at risk for negative health impacts from climate change and exposures to dirty air and water. The communities and families nurses care for deserve an EPA Administrator who is committed to putting public health first. Pruitt is not that person.”

SustainUS, Executive Coordinator Garrett Blad:

“As a public official, Scott Pruitt is trusted to protect the common good. Instead, he is doing everything in his power to damage the lives of young people in this country by handing federal regulating over to fossil fuel executives and lobbyists, giving out bonuses to his friends, and wasting public money to play by his own rules. Scott Pruitt cannot be trusted to safeguard our health or our nation’s democratic principles and should be removed. ”

Montana Environmental Information Center, Deputy Director Anne Hedges

”Scott Pruitt is making Montana’s pollution problems worse. In places such as Colstrip, Montana there are 800 acres of leaking coal ash ponds that have polluted ground and surface waters. The passage of the federal coal ash rule by the Obama Administration was a welcome relief and promised to finally get a handle on the problem in Montana and across the nation. Now Pruitt is trying to undo that rule and put polluters in the driver’s seat – the same polluters who caused the problem in the first place. It’s unconscionable, but that seems to be Pruitt’s middle name. This is just one example of many. He is unethical, imprudent, and more concerned about protecting polluters than public health. It’s time to draw the line.”

Gasp, Executive Director Michael Hansen:

“Scott Pruitt cannot be trusted to lead the agency tasked with protecting our air, land, water, and health. Time and again, he has shown himself to be openly hostile to healthy air, clean water, and basic science. By undermining public health safeguards and undoing critical environmental protections, Scott Pruitt has put all of us at increased risk for cancers, asthma, lung disease, and other illnesses. Pruitt should never have been put in charge of the EPA, and we now have ample evidence to prove it. Scott Pruitt has to go.”

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife:

“Wildlife rely on clean water, clean air and a balanced ecosystem for their survival. Scott Pruitt’s policies at the EPA threaten all of these. He has dismantled environmental protections and abused his position as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s time for Scott Pruitt and his policies to go.”

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RELATED: Tell your Senators and Representative that you agree, Scott Pruitt Must Go!

Jeff Sessions, Corruption & Environmental Injustice in North Birmingham

Jeff Sessions, Corruption & Environmental Injustice in North Birmingham

Jeff Sessions, Balch & Bingham and Drummond CoMPANY

Environmental Injustice in North Birmingham

by Michael Hansen | March 8, 2018

Mother Jones is reporting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was “deeply involved in coordinating the effort to thwart the EPA cleanup” in north Birmingham — more than we initially thought.

“Not only did his office take the lead on drafting the letter of complaint, it arranged a contentious meeting with EPA officials to press them to back off their efforts to clean up the polluted neighborhood.” (Mother Jones)

The former junior senator from Alabama has for years had deep connections to Balch & Bingham and Drummond Company. The two companies were the second and third largest sources of Sessions’s senate campaign contributions. That’s why we sent a blunt letter to Sessions on August 25, 2017 asking him to recuse himself “from any and all future involvement in the ongoing investigation into public corruption related to the so-called North Birmingham Superfund Site.” Unfortunately, the AG’s office has not deigned to respond to our request. We’ve not heard back in writing or via phone call.

Former EPA Region 4 Administrator McTeer-Toney recalled to Mother Jones that Sessions’s staffers, “were really, really pressing, trying to press senior officials to overrule what our decision was in the region. They wanted to go over our head, way over our head.” McTeer-Toney has since been replaced by former ADEM Director Trey Glenn as Region 4 Administrator.

According to Mother Jones, a December 2015 Balch & Bingham newsletter “touted a meeting with Sessions to discuss the 35th Avenue site and predicted a letter, signed by top Alabama lawmakers, would shortly be sent to the EPA expressing concerns over the agency’s methodology when it came to assigning blame.” Sure enough, Sessions, Sen. Richard Shelby, and Rep. Gary Palmer sent exactly such a letter to the EPA.

“I wish I could say it’s surprising how deep and how wide the public corruption goes with this scandal,” says Gasp Staff Attorney Haley Lewis. “I am disgusted at how many people who are supposed to be acting as public servants are going out of their way to go against the public interest in the northern Birmingham and Tarrant communities. If Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, it’s even more clear he needs to recuse himself from any investigation into the corruption affecting much-needed relief for the residents of the northern Birmingham communities.”

Background

The North Birmingham Environmental Collaboration Project spans four neighborhoods north of downtown Birmingham: Harriman Park, Collegeville, Fairmont, and North Birmingham. Formerly known as the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, the project began in earnest in 2009 when an EPA air toxics study at three Birmingham schools was at the upper end of the range for acceptable levels of risk. The EPA in 2012 tested over 1,100 properties in the area for semi-volatile organic compounds, metals (e.g., arsenic and lead) and polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(a)anthrocene, and benzo(b)fluoranthene. This lead to a large scale remediation plan to remove and replace contaminated soil from properties.

The EPA in 2013 named five companies were named as “potentially responsible parties” (PRPs): Drummond Company, Walter Coke (now ERP Coke), KMAC Services, U.S. Pipe & Foundry Company, and Alagasco (now Spire). Typically PRPs negotiate with the EPA to either cleanup contamination themselves or to reimburse the EPA for their “share” of the cleanup costs. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) gives the EPA the authority to seek repayment through settlement agreements or through the Justice Department. By January 2014, all five PRPs declined to negotiate with the EPA to assist with the cleanup. Soil remediation efforts began the following month with the 52 most contaminated properties.

Gasp has been involved with the community since about 2010 when we began attending Community Advisory Board and neighborhood association meetings. Since then, we have assisted residents by providing technical assistance and legal intervention where possible. On April 18, 2014, Gasp filed extensive comments on ABC Coke’s Title V air pollution permit. A few months later, we did the same with the Walter Coke permit.

On August 26, 2014, Gasp petitioned the Jefferson County Board of Health to disapprove the ABC Coke permit and requested a hearing to argue our case. The Board of Health oversees the Jefferson County Department of Health, which is granted authority from the EPA to regulate air emissions in the county. They rejected our request for a hearing, setting off a lawsuit against the Board of Health that eventually made its way to the Alabama Supreme Court — where we won last year. We have yet to have a hearing on the ABC Coke permit, which is up for its five-year renewal next year.

On July 1, 2014, Gasp petitioned the EPA to conduct a site inspection for hazardous substances near the ABC Coke plant in Tarrant, a suburb of Birmingham that was not included in the 35th Avenue Superfund Site boundary. The EPA ultimately granted that request finding grounds for further investigation. In September 2014, the EPA proposed adding the 35th Avenue Superfund Site to the National Priorities List (NPL), which would have unlocked additional federal funding from the Superfund Trust for cleanup efforts regardless of whether or not the PRPs paid their share. Gasp strongly supported this effort and helped community members submit comments advocating for a comprehensive cleanup and long-term community revitalization. The proposal was never approved.

“I am disgusted at how many people who are supposed to be acting as public servants are going out of their way to go against the public interest in the northern Birmingham and Tarrant communities.” (Haley Lewis, Gasp staff attorney)

Meanwhile, some local and state lawmakers were weighing in opposing our efforts. The Jefferson County Commission passed a resolution condemning our work. The mayor of Tarrant, Loxil Tuck, sent a truly bizarre letter (pictured) via utility bills complaining about us to her constituents. State Sen. Jabo Waggoner sponsored a joint resolution (SJR97) in the Alabama Legislature admonishing the EPA for its actions in northern Birmingham. Attorney General Luther Strange wrote multiple letters to the EPA opposing the cleanup work — and received $50,000 in well-timed campaign contributions from Drummond around before and after those letters were sent. The list goes on and on. (The City of Birmingham was dead silent on the NPL proposal.)

Last year, former-Rep. Oliver Robinson, one Drummond Company executive (David Roberson), and two Balch & Bingham attorneys (Joel Gilbert and Steve McKinney) were indicted by the Department of Justice on corruption charges related to the ongoing environmental cleanup efforts in northern Birmingham. AL.com columnist John Archibald and reporter Kyle Whitmire broke the Robinson story in April 2017 — before he was indicted — detailing how he took more than $130,000 from Balch and Drummond to undermine the EPA’s cleanup efforts and, in particular, Gasp’s work.

Robinson pleaded guilty to the charges and is expected to be sentenced soon, facing up to 100 years in prison. Roberson, Gilbert, and McKinney pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Federal investigators appear to still be trying to gather information.

AL.com natural resources reporter Dennis Pillion wrote an explainer piece for The Birmingham News last year that helps explain the history of the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in the context of the recent corruption revelations: North Birmingham’s 35th Ave EPA Superfund site explained.

In light of the latest revelations from the Mother Jones story today, Gasp is renewing its call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from this investigation entirely.

Ask Jeff Sessions to Recuse Himself

Two powerful lobbyists. One coal company executive. One state legislator. That’s who has been indicted so far in the ongoing North Birmingham corruption investigation. The stakes of the investigation into Drummond & Balch’s pollution-enabling corruption scheme are too high to be trusted to Attorney General Jeff Sessions — a man with an indisputable conflict of interest. Send a letter to Mr. Sessions asking him to recuse himself from this matter.

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Scott Pruitt’s Shameful Ploy to Undo the Clean Power Plan

Scott Pruitt’s Shameful Ploy to Undo the Clean Power Plan

On Monday, October 9, 2017, the EPA proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan. Once it is published in the Federal Register tomorrow there will be a 60 day public comment period. [Update: read Pruitt’s delusional press release here.] As we have before for the proposed and final rule, Gasp will be commenting. It is not only regrettable, but also disgraceful that we are commenting again, this time against repealing one of the most critical plans to address and combat climate change.

Clearly the motto of this new administration is to repeal, repeal, repeal with no thought of replacing. Where Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times prior to being in charge of the EPA, I cannot say I’m shocked at this announcement. But this is conscience-shocking.

Where September of this year was the most active month on record for Atlantic hurricanes and the 10 hottest years recorded have all occurred since 1998, climate change isn’t a distant threat, it’s here. The time to act has long passed and we certainly do not have time to roll back existing regulations.

EPA estimates the Clean Power Plan will prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks every year once it is fully implemented.

The message today? Meh, your health, your children’s health, they don’t matter. This administration would rather coyly and ignorantly pretend they’re unsure whether carbon is a pollutant. Such an absurd position is indefensible, especially when it’s well-known who has been buttering Scott Pruitt’s bread for a very long time.

This is a slap in the face to current and future generations. If you agree, please sign our petition for climate action!

TAKE ACTION

Gasp Calls on Sessions to Recuse Himself

Gasp Calls on Sessions to Recuse Himself

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Gasp Calls on Jeff Sessions to Recuse Himself from North Birmingham Corruption Investigation

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Sept. 6, 2017) — Gasp, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the reduction of air pollution through education and advocacy, has asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation into public corruption related to the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in northern Birmingham.

The letter to Sessions reads, in part:

“Due to your well-documented connections to these two powerful companies, Balch & Bingham and Drummond Company, we believe such a recusal is necessary and appropriate under the circumstances in this case. For example, as a U.S. Senator, Balch & Bingham and Drummond were your second and third largest sources of campaign contributions. (Totaling over $300,000 according to public campaign finance records.)

“I would also like to point out that [Luther Strange] received $50,000 from Drummond Company in late 2014 and early 2015 during the height of events surrounding the NPL and Pinson Valley Site. Rather than investigating possible public corruption and bad behavior by Drummond and Balch & Bingham, Strange looked the other way and opposed Gasp’s proposals to bring much-needed relief to the northern Birmingham communities at every turn.

“Alabama has been ravaged by public corruption in recent years. Meanwhile, real people are being harmed by the toxic pollution spewing from industry in the northern Birmingham region. To avoid any perception of impropriety, I must insist that you recuse yourself. Thank you for your consideration.”

In June, former state Rep. Oliver Robinson was charged with bribery, conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion. According to Robert Posey, acting U.S. Attorney at the time, Robinson took bribes totaling $360,000 in contracts through his foundation from Drummond Company’s law firm, Balch & Bingham.

Drummond and Balch & Bingham allegedly orchestrated the scheme in an attempt to stop an EPA proposal to add the 35th Avenue Site to the National Priorities List and to prevent the EPA from expanding its investigation into include nearby neighborhoods. After taking the money, Robinson worked to discourage residents from supporting the NPL proposal and from participating in soil sampling in a new site inspection.

Robinson accepted a plea agreement with federal prosecutors and entered a not guilty plea in July. He is expected to change his plea to guilty as soon as Thursday, September 7.

The letter was co-signed by: Cindy Lowry (Executive Director, Alabama Rivers Alliance), Jonathon Meeks (Chair, Sierra Club Alabama Chapter), Yohance Owens (Executive Director, Village Creek Human & Environmental Justice Society), Charlie Powell (President, People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination), Charles Scribner (Executive Director, Black Warrior Riverkeeper), Stephen Stetson (Senior Campaign Representative, Alabama Beyond Coal Campaign of the Sierra Club), Patricia Todd (State Representative, District 54), and Chester Wallace (President, North Birmingham Community Coalition).

For more information or to arrange a media interview, please contact Executive Director Michael Hansen at 205-701-4270 or michael@gaspgroup.org.

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Gasp, Inc. is a nonprofit health advocacy organization dedicated to reducing air pollution and protecting everyone’s right to breathe clean, healthy air through education and advocacy. Learn more at gaspgroup.org.

Gasp Responds to Corruption and Bribery Charges Related to North Birmingham

Gasp Responds to Corruption and Bribery Charges Related to North Birmingham

The following is a statement from Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen regarding corruption & bribery charges related to North Birmingham:

I was stunned to learn the extent of the conspiracy involving former-Rep. Oliver Robinson, Balch & Bingham, and Drummond Company to block EPA’s efforts to remediate contamination in northern Birmingham and Tarrant. We learned via Twitter that meetings with Robinson and Gasp representatives were recorded and shared with Drummond and their attorneys.

Gasp has been working in north Birmingham neighborhoods for years. In 2014, we petitioned the EPA to investigate whether or not additional cleanup was necessary in the Inglenook community and city of Tarrant. Between advocating for the National Priorities List (NPL) for the 35th Avenue Site (the NPL listing would have released millions of dollars for clean up) and additional testing in the Pinson Valley Site, we’ve been at odds with some of the most powerful interests in Alabama for years now.

This case is a sad commentary on the lengths to which unchecked greed will go for a buck. People deserve to live in a healthy community, including clean air, clean water, and clean soil. Residents have been complaining of respiratory illnesses, cancers, asthma, and other diseases. Despite Birmingham’s reputation for being a hub of medical advances, there has never been a study to see how the pollution is harming the communities’ health. We know there is a higher rate of pre-term birth and lower birth weight in the areas near heavy industry.

Toxic pollution literally kills people and makes them ill. Attempts at covering up pollution and avoiding responsibility for cleaning it up are among the most egregious forms of public corruption, and it must be rooted out.

This story is not simply about corruption. It is about harm to real people. For decades, people living near ABC Coke and other polluting industries have been breathing toxic emissions and growing gardens in contaminated soil. They’ve been telling us for years that they believe their families, their children are being exposed to serious environmental hazards and that their health is suffering from it. Everyone from the polluters to politicians to regulators turned a blind eye to these concerns, claiming there is no health risk. Well, now we know why.

The folks living in impacted communities deserve answers. Who else was involved in this scheme and how long has it been going on? How deep is this conspiracy? Will others be held accountable? Why aren’t the leaders in our state condemning these actions? What recourse do the residents have now that they know powerful interests conspired to thwart community cleanup efforts?

We won’t rest until we have answers and the residents of the northern Birmingham area are protected from toxic pollution and corruption.

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