Groups Sue Trump’s EPA for Coke Oven Cancer Pollution

Groups Sue Trump’s EPA for Coke Oven Cancer Pollution

Groups Sue Trump’s EPA for Coke Oven Cancer Pollution

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 15, 2019) — Today Earthjustice on behalf of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Gasp, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Sierra Club, sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for improperly regulating coke ovens – producers of known carcinogens – thus failing to protect communities throughout the country. Over a decade ago, EPA found that carcinogenic emissions from coke ovens destroy air quality and cause devastating health complications, yet plaintiffs in the case argue the agency failed to act to protect nearby communities from this threat.

“The pollutants spewed by coke ovens cause cancer and other serious illnesses. Fourteen years ago today, EPA admitted that it couldn’t say whether its own regulations adequately protected people from this threat and promised to do something about it. Since that day, EPA hasn’t taken a single step to fulfill its promise. It’s long past time for EPA to do its job and protect people in places like Birmingham, Ala., Clairton, and Erie, Pa., and St. James Parish, La.,” said Earthjustice Attorney Tosh Sagar.

“EPA determined years ago that coke ovens produce known carcinogens and that millions of residents in nearby towns and cities breath these carcinogens in. This is just one in a long litany of EPA’s failure. It’s time EPA does its job to review and revise standards for coke ovens in order to protect these people and meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act,” said the plaintiffs in a joint statement.

Coke ovens used usually for iron making superheat coal producing more than 40 highly toxic air pollutants – including benzene, arsenic, and lead – that escape poorly-sealed oven doors every time coal is added to bake or coke is removed from an oven. These poisonous gases not only cause breathing problems but are also known carcinogens that threaten nearby residential communities.

In 2005, EPA issued regulations for emissions from coke oven batteries. But these regulations didn’t address many of the points in the coke oven plants that are responsible for significant emissions. Even worse, EPA itself recognized that it could not know whether the 2005 regulations adequately protect people from these carcinogenic gases.

EPA promised to address this problem, but 14 years have passed and EPA has done nothing. In just the last few years, EPA admitted in federal court that it similarly failed to review and update standards for more than 40 other sources of hazardous air pollutants. Thus, EPA’s failure to review and revise standards for coke ovens is just one example of its disregard for using the Clean Air Act to protect communities. This lawsuit aims to enforce the Clean Air Act by requiring EPA to properly regulate coke oven facilities that produce known carcinogens.

Examples of the Impact of Coke Facilities:

  • U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works in Allegheny County is the largest coke plant in the country and decidedly has the greatest impact on deteriorating air quality in western Pennsylvania. Decades of consent orders, multi-millions of dollars in fines paid, and more recently, tougher enforcement by regulators have not resulted in Clairton operating in a manner protective of air quality. “Forcing EPA to finally set standards for these emissions will go a long way to protecting people living near coking facilities like Clairton in western Pennsylvania and across the country,” said PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo.
  • In Birmingham, there are two coke plants less than two miles from each other within low-income, overwhelmingly African-American communities. One of the two plants, Drummond Company’s, ABC Coke, is the largest merchant producer of foundry coke in the United States. In February, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the company would be fined $775,000 for violating the Clean Air Act. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America ranks Birmingham in the top 10 in its Asthma Capitals report.
  • The residents of the St. James Parish, La., already experience some of the highest cancer rates in the nation and Nucor plans to add to their burden by building a new, massive coke oven plant. If EPA reviewed and updated these standards, Nucor would have to build this plant using the most-up-to-date pollution controls. But if EPA doesn’t act fast to review the standards, the residents of St. James parish will be subjected to carcinogenic gases as a result of Nucor’s old, dirty technology for decades to come. “Nucor made the decision to put its polluting facility in the middle of a historic black community, and now that community is bearing the brunt of its pollution and the government’s failure of oversight. It’s long past time for the law to be enforced,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. 

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MEDIA CONTACTS

Tosh Sagar
Earthjustice attorney
202-797-4300
email

Anne Rolfes
Louisiana Bucket Brigade
504-484-3433
email

Michael Hansen
Gasp
205-746-4666
email

Judy Kelly
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future
412-805-8494
email

Jane Williams
Sierra Club
661-256-2101
email

Katie’s Corner: My First Month Interning at Gasp

Katie’s Corner: My First Month Interning at Gasp

Katie’s Corner: My First Month Interning at Gasp

My name is Katie Causey and I am a junior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I am majoring in Biomedical Science with a minor in chemistry. My long-term career goal is to become a physician to improve the quality of human health.

So far working as one of Gasp’s spring interns for 2019 has opened up my eyes on the reality of what poor air quality does to our health. As a pre-med student I have always been concerned about various factors that contribute to our overall well-being, but to be quite honest I have never thought about air pollution from a public health standpoint and what we are exposed to on a daily basis. This semester my main project and focus is to educate the school systems in Jefferson County on what Gasp’s aspirations are, what they stand for, and hopefully implement the amazing programs that they have to offer.

I have had the privilege to talk with some schools about their previous endeavors with Gasp and others about future involvement with Clean Air, Healthy Kids. When I was around the students and listened to their concerns, all I could think was that I wish that I had had this kind of exposure earlier on in my academic career. A couple weeks ago I also had the pleasure of going to a local school to inform them about what exactly the Gasp program entailed and how it would best benefit their school.

As a result of some schools’ dedication to this program, Gasp was able to show the others what they had already accomplished by bringing tangible products of the classroom’s success. I would love to for this to act as as a domino effect and let the involvement of other schools and their achievements speak for itself. I believe that the more the general public is educated on what is happening and what needs to be done, it is one step closer to having exceptional air quality in our great city of Birmingham, Alabama.   

 

Gasp Delivers Blistering Letter to Environmental Management Commission, ADEM

Gasp Delivers Blistering Letter to Environmental Management Commission, ADEM

Gasp Delivers Blistering Letter to Environmental Management Commission, ADEM

On Friday, February 15, Haley Lewis, our staff attorney, hand delivered a rebuttal to inaccurate statements made by Alabama Environmental Management Commission (EMC) members and the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) during the regular meeting of the Commission. 

The letter — addressed to EMC chair Dr. Samuel Miller, EMC member Lanier Brown and ADEM Director Lance LeFleur — attempts to correct several inaccurate or misleading statements by the three men during the December 14 2018 AEMC meeting in response to a presentation made by me (Executive Director Michael Hansen).

In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the North Birmingham 35th Avenue Superfund Site to the National Priorities List, a designation under federal environmental law that allocates resources to cleaning up communities with high levels of industrial contamination. That EPA proposal, among other things, prompted Drummond Company and its law firm Balch & Bingham to develop a campaign to undermine the effort. That campaign involved pressuring public officials and regulators, including  LeFleur, to oppose the NPL proposal and other EPA actions. That campaign came into question after the indictments of former Rep. Oliver Robinson, Balch & Bingham attorney Joel Gilbert, and Drummond executive David Roberson. Robinson pleaded guilty to several corruption charges, while Gilbert and Roberson went to trial and were convicted on six corruption counts.

Evidence during the trial of Gilbert and Roberson revealed the extent to which the campaign leaned on ADEM, the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, state legislators, local elected officials, and other public officials to thwart the NPL recommendation from EPA. It revealed a “shadow government” run by influential corporate interests and powerful lobbyists masquerading as community outreach and public relations. In the end, EPA never did include the 35th Avenue Site on the NPL and residents of those communities continue to bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution.

Last December, in light of the evidence fr