Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Every year Gasp comments on the Ambient Air Monitoring Plans put out by ADEM and JCDH. These plans contain any changes that either ADEM or JCDH plan to make to their ambient air monitoring network in that year. The plans are subject to public comment and EPA must approve the Plans.

Where ambient air monitors are placed and for what pollutant they monitor is crucial to the regulators’ and public’s ability to understand their air quality. For example, when Birmingham has “ozone days,” this information is being collected from the various ozone monitors throughout JCDH’s ambient air monitoring network. Gasp has been commenting on these plans the past several years not only because of the crucial role ambient air monitors play in informing us about air quality, but also because a more robust, intentionally strategic ambient air monitoring network is a critical component of establishing everyone’s right to breathe healthy air.

According to a recent article, the gains the U.S. has made in improving air quality have decreased over the past 2 years. “There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when America had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.” The American Lung Association ranked Birmingham 14th worst city for year round small particle (PM2.5) pollution.

This year, Gasp is asking for more monitoring. Specifically, for monitors to address the Acipco-Finley neighborhood’s concerns about emissions from scrap metal recycling facilities in their neighborhood and for a dedicated fenceline SO2 monitor for ABC Coke. These are very specific requests that could not only give a clearer picture of air quality in these communities, but such information gives residents the power to make their communities and air healthier.

Information is power. A robust ambient air monitoring network, with monitors placed in the right places (short version: the “right places” are in hot spots of pollution, not far away from them), gives people critical information about the quality of the air they breathe. This is why weighing in on JCDH’s Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019 is a crucial part of advancing healthy air and environmental justice.

FAQs About ABC Coke’s Permit: What You Need to Know

FAQs About ABC Coke’s Permit: What You Need to Know

FAQs About ABC Coke’s Permit: What You Need to Know

Last fall, the Jefferson County Department of Health posted ABC Coke’s Title V pollution permit renewal application. (Title V is just a provision of the Clean Air Act.) We asked for (and received) an extension on the public comment period to allow us and residents of Jefferson County to submit questions and to JCDH. We also requested a public hearing. That request was granted and two hearings were held on November 15. Dozens of community members filled the conference room at JCDH at both hearings and made compelling arguments about the need for a strong permit to protect public health. 

We filed extensive written comments on the permit which pointed out several deficiencies with the permit renewal and permit application. We posted those comments here and highlighted some of the opportunities for improvement.

If you were one of the people who made oral comments at the hearings or submitted written comments by mail or email, you may have recently received a letter from JCDH. Folks have been asking us what this letter means and what’s next, so we thought we would put together a FAQ guide for you. An amazingly helpful resource is this booklet, Proof is in the Permit.


Why did I get this letter?

What is a “proposed permit?”

What is EPA’s 45 day review period?

Is this letter about another public comment period?

What does it mean for EPA to “object” to a permit?

Is it only EPA who can object to a permit?

Is Gasp going to object to ABC Coke’s permit?

I asked JCDH to deny ABC Coke’s permit. Why didn’t they?

What can I do now? How can I be involved?

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why did I get this letter?

A: You either 1) attended the hearing, 2) also made comments at the hearing, and/or 3) submitted written comments to JCDH about ABC Coke’s Draft Permit. JCDH wrote this letter to inform you that the Draft Permit was proposed (more on what this means later) to EPA on March 1, 2019. They also used this letter to direct people to JCDH’s website where their responses to written comments are posted.

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Q: What is a “proposed permit?”

A: After the public comment period and reviewing the comments on the Draft Permit, JCDH submits the draft permit to the regional U.S. EPA office, Region 4, for a 45 day review period. At the time JCDH submitted the draft permit to EPA, it becomes a “proposed permit.”

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Q: What is EPA’s 45 day review period?

A: In this situation, EPA’s “clock” to review started ticking on March 1, 2019 (which means the 45 day review period ends on April 18, 2019, which begins another clock. More on that later). This means that during these 45 days, EPA will review the permit and may object (more on that later). While every permit must be submitted to U.S. EPA for the 45-day review period, U.S. EPA is not required to review every proposed permit. Each regional U.S. EPA office has its own policy on selecting permits to review, but U.S. EPA suggested a target of reviewing at least ten percent of all permits proposed for facilities in each of U.S. EPA’s ten regions. The EPA is most likely to review proposed permits for very large or controversial facilities.

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Q: Is this letter about another public comment period?

A: No. There are no more opportunities for public comment with EPA during their 45 day review period. If you provided comments during the public comment period, you could petition the EPA to object to ABC Coke’s permit (more on that later).

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Q: What does it mean for EPA to “object” to a permit?

A: EPA must object to the proposed permit if EPA determines that the proposed permit does not comply with federal laws or regulations. In addition, the EPA can choose to object to a proposed permit if the Permitting Authority does not provide U.S. EPA with sufficient supporting information to allow for meaningful U.S. EPA review or if the permitting authority fails to follow the right procedures for public participation. If EPA chooses to object, they must give JCDH a written explanation for the objection and give JCDH 90 days to submit a revised version of the proposed permit to EPA. If JCDH misses this deadline, EPA can either deny the permit or develop a permit for ABC Coke themselves.

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Q: Is it only EPA who can object to a permit?

A: No. If you commented on the draft permit during the public comment period and are not satisfied with the proposed permit JCDH sent to EPA, you can ask EPA to object to the permit. You make this request through a petition to EPA. This is the clock that starts ticking after EPA’s 45 day review period ends. You have 60 days from the end of the 45 day review period to petition the EPA to object to the permit. In this case, you have until June 14, 2019 to petition the EPA to object to ABC Coke’s permit.

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Q: Is Gasp going to object to ABC Coke’s permit?

A: Gasp is still reviewing JCDH’s responses to our and SELC’s comments (which we incorporated by referenced into our comments) and the proposed permit renewal for ABC Coke. We will use EPA’s 45 day period, and the 60 days thereafter, to determine if there are issues that warrant a petition to object.

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Q: I asked JCDH to deny ABC Coke’s permit. Why didn’t they?

A: The best we can do is point you to JCDH’s answers to those written comments themselves (specifically, you can see these responses on pages 4, 7, 11-14, 17-20, 23, 24, 26, 28, 30, 37 and 51).

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Q: What can I do now? How can I be involved?

A: If you are concerned about the pollution from ABC Coke and are not already a member of Gasp, join now. If you want to stay informed of when EPA’s review period ends and when Petitions to Object are due and/or if you’re thinking about drafting a petition yourself, feel free to email or call me ([email protected], 205-701-4272).

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Gasp Comments on ABC Coke Permit: What Happens Next

Gasp Comments on ABC Coke Permit: What Happens Next

Gasp Comments on ABC Coke Permit: What Happens Next 

I was taken completely aback when one of Jefferson County Department of Health’s (JCDH) air pollution control engineers gave me a head’s up that ABC Coke’s Title V permit renewal was up for public comment an entire year earlier than I expected.  I dutifully check JCDH’s public notices every day, so the head’s up actually helped me not to enter a full on tailspin panic. I immediately dove into the draft permit and permit applications, which are hundreds of pages. The next day, I prepared an official letter requesting an extension for the public comment period and a public hearing. Within less than a week, JCDH granted an extension and public hearing.

At the public hearing I and my colleagues called on JCDH to do better. Many issues I saw in the draft permit and permit application were indicative of a lack of effort or interest in going beyond a D-level evaluation of a facility that is hurting people and a community and actively working against relief for that community. I firmly maintain JCDH can and should do better: that is my job as an agency watchdog. But I also give credit where its due, and extend grace every chance I can. The engineer at JCDH did not have to give me a head’s up about the permit being up for public comment. JCDH did not have to grant a generous comment extension. They did not have to provide one, let alone two hearings. These are steps in the right direction and they matter. I will echo what our Executive Director, Michael Hansen, said at the public hearing: we will continue to push JCDH to do better, but we also want to be a partner and ally where we can.

Below are Gasp’s comments in full, for anyone who might want to dive in.

Gasp Comment Final Draft by GASPgroup on Scribd

For people who prefer bulleted lists, here is a high level view of the major issues we identified:

  1. A major issue affecting the permit is the Responsible Official (RO). The RO for ABC Coke does not meet the 40 C.F.R. 70.2 definition, as he is not a corporate officer of ABC Coke or Drummond Company (see comment for further information). The RO is a pretty big deal, because they sign as representative of the corporation, but may also be individually liable under environmental criminal provisions.
  2. There were many and varied instances in which the permit application was not complete. For example, JCDH provides certain forms that must be completed as part of the permit application, and ABC Coke submitted several old forms instead of newer versions. Many “plans” and attachments required to be included with the permit application and/or draft permit were not publicly available or attached to the permit application.
  3. Many permit conditions in the draft permit raised significant issues of federal enforceability. What does this mean? Simply put, it’s the ability of the EPA Administrator to enforce limitations and conditions of the permit. The Clean Air Act (CAA) allows citizen enforcement. Citizen enforceability and federal enforceability are intrinsically tied to one another. The Title V permit review and comment process was designed to be transparent and allow full, meaningful citizen (this is the term used by the statute, I personally think anyone, citizen or not, has the right to weigh in on how pollution affects them) participation. Where information is not included, citizen participation is threatened, which means there are issues of federal enforceability; i.e. citizens can’t enforce without all of the information. The comment itself dives into several different areas of this issue, if you’d like to learn more. This particular aspect also has a lot do with the next steps for the permit.
  4. Some permit conditions just shouldn’t be there. Period. (See section III. B, for example).
  5. For anyone who loves technicality and detail, dive into Sections V and VI of the comment. These are detailed arguments about specific emissions units and monitoring at ABC Coke.
  6. A major, major issue throughout addresses monitoring to assure compliance with the CAA. It is this area where it is most abundantly clear that JCDH can do much, much better at regulating ABC Coke and protecting surrounding communities. There are multiple and layered issues discussed in Section VII. of the comment, but most alarming are major concerns about actual compliance with 1 hour sulfur dioxide National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Attainment is a big deal. Sulfur dioxide is a big deal; it causes short and long term health effects. If you read just one section of our comment, this would be the one I’d point you to.
  7. We also reference in our comment the Southern Environmental Law Center’s comments, which can be found in ATTACHMENT D in the document below.

Attachments a C by GASPgroup on Scribd

For anyone who is wondering what’s next, the graphic below is very helpful. (Click to download a PDF version.)

We will update all of you when JCDH sends the proposed permit to EPA, which begins EPA’s 45 day review period.


Ambient Air Monitoring Plans up for public comment

Ambient Air Monitoring Plans up for public comment

As in previous years, Gasp is submitting comments on the State of Alabama Ambient Air Monitoring Plans. We will provide ways for you to comment and/or sign onto our comments as well. Comments are due June 21, 2018. You can find the draft plans for ADEM and JCDH below.

Alabama Department of Environmental Management 2018 Statewide Ambient Air Plan

2018 Ambient Air Plan by Gasp on Scribd

Jefferson County Department of Health 2018 Ambient Air Network Plan Draft

2018 JCDH Ambient Air Network Plan Draft (2) by Gasp on Scribd

EPA Makes Additional Designations for the 2015 Ozone Standards

EPA Makes Additional Designations for the 2015 Ozone Standards

On April 30th, EPA took the next step in the Clean Air Act process to implement the national air quality standards for ozone that were issued in 2015.  After designating most of the U.S. as meeting the standards in November 2017, the Agency is now completing nearly all remaining area designations. Alabama is listed as one of the states that meets the standards (i.e. no nonattainment areas).

We are relieved Alabama has no nonattainment areas. We are also continually grateful for the Clean Air Act, which has enabled vast improvements in air quality. However, as Dr. Ben Branscomb said: “A comparison to the past is the wrong standard for anything you are trying to  evaluate. You evaluate based on what the ideal would be and what the risk benefit ratio is for the distance we are away from the ideal.” A new study suggests that following five decades of progress in cleaning up our air, U.S. pollution gains have slowed significantly in recent years.

Furthermore, reducing outdoor concentrations of two air pollutants, ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), to levels below those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would likely save thousands of lives each year, result in far fewer serious illnesses and dramatically reduce missed days of school and work, according to a new analysis conducted by the American Thoracic Society and the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University.

Gasp will continue to monitor air quality and push for stronger standards and for an ambient air monitoring network that accurately reflects the air quality issues of the entire state. Although Alabama currently is in attainment for the 2015 standard, we will encourage the EPA, state and local agencies to implement standards more protective of human health and to more dramatically reduce air pollution.

Ozone season officially began 2 days ago and you can keep track of air quality in the Metro Birmingham area by using Gasp’s air quali