If you’ve been following the North Birmingham corruption investigation involving Drummond Company, Balch & Bingham, and former Rep. Oliver Robinson, you know that our work is a huge part of the story. (Robinson plead guilty on Sept 7.) Yesterday, al.com’s John Archibald reported that newly appointed U.S. Attorney Jay Town is asking for patience in the ongoing corruption investigation — which suggests more indictments may very well be on their way.
We’re trying to do our part to ensure everyone responsible for wrongdoing is held accountable. That’s why we sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to recuse himself from the investigation. His decades-long, lucrative relationships with Drummond and Balch & Bingham could compromise the case, in our opinion, and its better to be safe than sorry.
We are also trying to find possible connections between two $25,000 contributions made to former Alabama Attorney General (now-Senator) Luther Strange by Drummond and actions taken by his office opposing the EPA’s cleanup efforts. On Aug. 23, Gasp attorney David Ludder made an open records act request on our behalf to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. We requested “electronic mail records, letters, or other records of communications” between Luther Strange or any employee or agent of the Office of the Attorney General:
- Any employee or agent of Balch & Bingham LLP concerning EPA, Drummond Company, Inc., ABC Coke, or the “35th Avenue site” in Birmingham dated, created or received after April 1, 2014.
- Any employee or agent of Drummond Company, Inc. concerning EPA, Drummond Company, Inc., ABC Coke, or the “35th Avenue site” in Birmingham dated, created or received after April 1, 2014.
- Any employee or agent of ABC Coke concerning EPA, Drummond Company, Inc., ABC Coke, or the “35th Avenue site” in Birmingham dated, created or received after April 1, 2014.
- Any employee or agent of Drummond Company, Inc. concerning contributions to any political campaign of Luther Strange dated, created or received after April 1, 2014.
The AG’s office on Aug. 31 denied our request on the basis that our attorney is based in Florida. That’s not how the Open Records Act works, and we promptly let them know that Gasp is indeed based in Birmingham, Ala., and therefore has every right to review the requested communications. As of today (Sept. 18), we have yet to hear back from Marshall’s office.
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
One has to ask, “Is Attorney General Steve Marshall playing politics with our request because he doesn’t want to hurt his predecessor, Luther Strange, in the runoff election on Sept. 26?”
If that’s the case, we’re even more disgusted than we already were. As a 501(c)(3), Gasp is a nonpartisan, apolitical organization. But we have a right to review public records and we shouldn’t be stonewalled for political purposes. Our members deserve answers, and we won’t stop until we get them.
Our mission requires us to educate the public about the harmful effects of air pollution and about cleaner sources of energy. You might say we’re big “fans” of clean energy like wind and solar — and science in general! We’re always looking for creative ways to teach kids about air pollution, health, and renewable energy.
One of our fall interns, Vaishali, found this video (above) that shows how to make a simple and efficient personal fan using solar energy! So she assembled a list of materials and equipment and wrote out the step-by-step instructions. This is a great classroom project for science teachers and science clubs. We created an Amazon Shopping List for anyone interested in trying it out. The materials cost about $32.The equipment will run about $25, but you should be able to borrow a hot glue gun and/or soldering kit if you don’t already have one of your own.
Teachers: Feel free to reach out to Michael Hansen (205-701-4270, email@example.com) if you’d like us to come to your classroom for a project like this one!
- 3V Solar Panel
- 12V Small DC Motor
- Small Propeller
- Styrofoam blocks
- A plywood board
- Hot Glue Gun
- Soldering Machine
- Connect the wires on the motor to the solar panel using soldering
- Cut two long rectangles of Styrofoam and glue them down to the cardboard with 3 inches separation
- Glue the motor to one Styrofoam
- Glue the solar panel to the other Styrofoam facing towards the sun
- Attach the propeller to the motor
- Congrats! You’re done!
SHOP FOR SUPPLIES
The fall semester is in full swing at Alabama’s colleges and universities and we’ve got some awesome new interns to introduce! Last week we introduced you to fall intern Vaishali Nijampatnam, a junior at UAB majoring in biomedical engineering. Today, we’d like you to meet Kenneth Paik, who is also interning with Gasp through UAB’s Academic Small Business Alliance internship program. Kenneth is a pre-med student majoring in biomedical sciences at UAB.
What is your major at UAB and why did you choose it?
I always favored the idea of pursing science into a career that provides practical application, whether it be healthcare or research. The Biomedical Sciences program gave me an understanding of what that may look like. Class topics range anywhere from the basic fundamentals of genetics of the human body to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes it takes to provide health services. Having this sort of background definitely helps strengthen my goal with healthcare.
What do you hope to do after you graduate?
I am hoping to be able to travel much more after I graduate. Visiting and experiencing new cultures and languages has always been an interest of mine. I also hope to be in graduate school by then.
What is your dream job?
I first tell people what’s my parent’s goal for me—to become a doctor or dentist. But to simply state it, I want to serve the disadvantaged. Anything related with the fact that people are suffering, hurting, or struggling reminds me that there is more than just myself to take care of. Briefly speaking, my dream job isn’t anything specific, but to simply provide care for others.
What do you hope to learn while volunteering with Gasp?
I believe Gasp will encourage me to strive for higher ends. In a non-profit organization there is always a targeted goal. It’s all about the general population, making people safer, healthier, and happier. Hopefully, working as an intern here will help me gain a better sense of that.
Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?
Moving out of the house and living on my own made me realize the importance of taking care of myself. That also includes the type of environment that I live in. Gasp advocates for a safer and healthier community in the Birmingham area by improving the air quality that helps benefit the lifestyles of people from every background.
What is your favorite food?
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy playing soccer, walking, running, and exercising. I also like to play guitar and sing.
Who or what are your influences?
My influences mainly come from my parents. They continuously encourage me to work hard and I accredit them for all of my accomplishments. They also teach me to appreciate the little things in life while tackling big goals on a day to day basis.
What are some other fun facts about yourself?
Though I’ve played sports my entire life, I’ve never broken, sprained, or bruised any bone in my body. Also, I come from three different ethnic backgrounds: Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.