Montgomery, Ala. (April 27, 2018) — Alabama citizens and conservation groups are challenging Alabama Power’s unjust monthly fee imposed on customers who install and use rooftop solar systems to power some of the energy needs at their homes, businesses, and schools.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of Gasp, and Ragsdale LLC, on behalf of two private Alabama citizens, jointly filed a complaint late yesterday asking the Alabama Public Service Commission to determine that Alabama Power’s rate treatment of solar customers is unfair, contrary to public interest, and otherwise unlawful.
“While Alabama Power has taken incremental steps toward investing in utility-scale and commercial solar projects, it is imposing significant roadblocks on homeowners and businesses who want the same benefits from investing in solar,” saidKatie Ottenweller, Senior Attorney and leader of SELC’s Solar Initiative. “This unwarranted fee is limiting Alabamians’ rights to create solar power on their own properties and reduce their electric bills.”
Based on the size of a homeowner’s solar system, the $5 per kilowatt monthly fee is added on top of other fixed and variable charges that these customers continue to pay each month to Alabama Power.
For a 5 kilowatt solar array, this charge results in an additional $300 charge per year, clawing back about half of customers’ average savings from solar.
The charge puts a huge dent in homeowners’ return-on-investment in a solar system. The fees alone add about $9,000 over the lifetime of an average 5-kilowatt system and greatly increase the payback period for the homeowner’s investment.
“I was initially interested in installing solar panels because I wanted to reduce my energy use and monthly bills,” said Dr. Jim Bankston, a resident of Tuscaloosa and an Alabama Power customer who is now paying the charges. “But this unfair treatment is an abuse of monopoly power that infringes on the rights of all customers. You shouldn’t be punished for attempting to curb your energy use, just as you wouldn’t be punished for making your home more energy efficient.
The most egregious charge on solar customers by a regulated utility in the country, Alabama Power’s monthly fee is unlawful and continues to suppress solar progress in the state, five years after going into effect.
Similar charges have been proposed and rejected by state public service commissions across the country. In 2013, Georgia Power withdrew a proposed charge, nearly identical to sister utility Alabama Power’s fee, as a result of public backlash surrounding the proposal.
Other Southern states are enacting policies that clear the way for homegrown clean energy investments, providing savings for homeowners and new job opportunities in solar—an industry that is growing 17 times faster than the U.S. economy. While states like North Carolina and South Carolina have seen an increase in solar rooftop investments, Alabama continues to lag far behind and miss an incredible opportunity for local job creation.
“Neighboring states with pro-solar policies have now seen the unparalleled opportunities to create new jobs, generate local, clean energy, save customers and businesses money, and reduce impacts on human health,” said Gasp Executive Director, Michael Hansen. “If solar customers were treated fairly, Alabama would have the opportunity to reap these same benefits.”
About Southern Environmental Law Center For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.southernenvironment.org
About Gasp Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to reduce citizens’ exposure to air pollution, educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality, and encourage community leaders to serve as role model by advocating for clean air and clean energy. gaspgroup.org
About Ragsdale LLC Founded in 1991, Ragsdale LLC has been representing individuals and small businesses in civil lawsuits for 35 years. Using our experience and knowledge of law and the court system, our areas of practice include environmental and pollution claims, personal injury and death, securities fraud and class actions, fraud and contract disputes, and whistleblower claims.www.ragsdalellc.com
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, firstname.lastname@example.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:
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.
Require that all major sources of air pollution to install the best available control technology.
Require annual emissions testing for volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants from all of the major emission points at pellet mills.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Financial disclosures show the EPA Region 4 Administrator was paid at least $5,000 by Balch & Bingham for ‘Drummond/ABC Coke project’
by Michael Hansen | March 9, 2018
Yesterday I wrote a lengthy story about then-Sen. Jeff Sessions’ involvement in the corruption scandal related to the north Birmingham Superfund site. It turns out that his office was intimately involved with trying to pressure the EPA to back off cleanup efforts that Gasp has been working on for the past 7 years.
Today, I’d like to let you know about another shady piece of the puzzle. Back in August 2017, Onis “Trey” Glenn was appointed as EPA Region 4 administrator, which oversees the agency’s mission in eight states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. You may recall that Glenn was the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management from 2005–2009. His tenure as head of ADEM was controversial.
While he was pushing for the job as director of ADEM, Glenn approved invoices for engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie (which has since changed its named to Arcadis). It just so happened that at the time, Malcolm Pirnie executive Scott Phillips was chair of the Environmental Management Commission and therefore responsible for selecting the next ADEM director. In 2007, the Alabama Ethics Commission unanimously concluded that Glenn violated state ethics laws in order to get the job at ADEM, though he ultimately escaped criminal charges.
Glenn also billed his family’s private plane trip to Disney World to a PR firm — which he said he eventually paid back. It was so bad that former ADEM attorney David Ludder (who now represents Gasp on several legal matters) urged the EMC to pass a rule banning Glenn from receiving gifts from companies regulated by the agency.
Federal agency appointees like Glenn have to file a Public Financial Disclosure Report and report any income over $5,000 in the 12 months preceding the appointment. In his filing, Glenn listed “technical consulting” work for Balch & Bingham for the “Drummond/ABC Coke project.” (Click on the image to view a PDF of Glenn’s complete filing, which was revised on Nov. 29, 2017.)
Balch & Bingham is the law firm at the heart of the corruption scandal related to the north Birmingham Superfund site. Two of the firm’s attorneys, Steve McKinney and Joel Gilbert, were indicted in September 2017 on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of bribery, three counts of honest services wire fraud, and one count of money laundering conspiracy.
David Roberson, who was vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Drummond Company, was also indicted on the same charges.
On Jan. 10, 2018, I sent a letter to Trey Glenn to “respectfully request ask for further explanation” of the compensation he had received from Balch & Bingham. Below is an excerpt from the letter:
“Due to your own disclosure of connections to these two powerful companies, Balch & Bingham and Drummond Company, we believe you may have an inherent conflict of interest. The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. Your friends at Balch and Drummond allegedly teamed up to make sure health and the environment were not protected for the residents of the northern Birmingham communities and Tarrant. Real people, many of whom are members of our organization, are being harmed by the toxic pollution spewing from Drummond Company’s ABC Coke facility. Furthermore, if you are to oversee permit renewals, enforcement actions, further action taken to ameliorate contamination at the 35th Avenue Site etc., it is imperative that the public be informed of every detail of the consulting work you performed for the ‘Drummond/ABC Coke project’ that was paid for by Balch.”
Trey Glenn’s office has yet to respond to my request for more information. Copied on the letter were: President Donald J. Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sen. Doug Jones, Sen. Richard Shelby, Rep. Gary Palmer, Rep. Terri Sewell, Sen. Johnny Isakson, Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Cory Booker.
“Real people, many of whom are members of our organization, are being harmed by the toxic pollution spewing from Drummond Company’s ABC Coke facility.”
That’s Not All
There were a couple of other items on Glenn’s disclosure form that stood out. For example, he listed compensation of more than $5,000 from Big Sky Environmental for “consulting.” You may recall the recent uproar over the so-called “poop trains” that were parked in the North Birmingham neighborhood. The rail cars — which were recently banned from sitting in the town of West Jefferson after residents protested — contained sewage sludge from New York and New Jersey for disposal at the Big Sky Environmental landfill in Adamsville. Speaking of Big Sky Environmental, check out this bizarre story about the company that’s sure to leave you scratching your head.
That wasn’t the only thing that raised our eyebrows. Glenn also reported more than $5,000 from Matrix, LLC — the notorious “communications” firm favored by politicians and powerful business interests. The reason? Also for “consulting.” The Energy and Policy Institute describes Matrix as a “lobbying and opposition research firm that has provided political consulting services to Alabama Power for decades.”
Between Glenn’s past behavior and the recent revelation that he’s been paid by Balch & Bingham to work on the “Drummond/ABC Coke project,” coupled with consulting for questionable actors like Big Sky Environmental and Matrix, LLC, we have come to the conclusion that Trey Glenn must recuse himself from any and all matters related to north Birmingham or Drummond Company.
Write your own letter asking Trey Glenn to recuse! Or call Region 4 and relay your concerns.
Hon. Trey Glenn Regional Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 4 61 Forsyth Street, S.W. Mail Code: 9T25 Atlanta, GA 30303-8960 (404) 562-9900
The news is a buzz this week with assessing President Trump’s first 100 days in office. NPR did a great Q&A with Cokie Roberts about this Presidential benchmark and its significance, if any. I have been doing my best to keep you all up to speed since day one of the new administration and how actions at the executive and federal level are affecting clean air and health. It has been a very busy first 100 days to track, sadly mostly not in a good way. Since I last blogged a couple of weeks ago, several new developments have cropped up and we have new updates.
April 27, 2017: S.987 “100 by 50” Bill. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). This bill would phase out fossil fuels and completely replace them with clean renewable energy by 2050. The bill would put in place a comprehensive plan to ramp up renewable energy and energy efficiency, the electrification of transportation and heating, while putting a halt to the development of fossil fuel infrastructure. It also includes provisions to train workers in the transition to clean energy to encourage the deployment of clean energy in disadvantaged communities.
April 27, 2017: D.C. Circuit Court suspends Litigation Over MATS. On April 18, 2017 the EPA, in an email, announced its plans to file a motion to the D.C. Circuit court to ask them to delay oral arguments set for May 18, 2017 in EPA’s defense of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. In 2015, the D.C. Circuit Court did not throw out the MATS rule and instead instructed EPA to go back and consider costs (most plants subject to MATS have either complied or retired). On April 27, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court granted EPA’s request to delay oral arguments.
April 28, 2017: President Trump signs Executive Order to expand offshore drilling. President Trump signed an Executive Order that calls for a “review of the locations available for offshore oil and gas exploration.” The order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a five-year plan in which President Obama banned drilling in parts of the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans.
April 28, 2017: D.C. Circuit Court grants EPA’s request to pause litigation over Clean Power Plan. Last month, the White House requested a 60-day hold on litigation surrounding the Clean Power Plan. On April 28, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court granted that request. This pause allows the parties (EPA, 24 states and cities, environmental and industry groups) to file briefs addressing the future of the rule.
UPDATES ON PREVIOUS ACTIONS
Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress. The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. The resolutions require the signature of the president. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:
The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule.UPDATE: On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.
Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule. The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post. UPDATE: on March 21, 2017, some Republican lawmakers came out against using the CRA to repeal this rule. Specifically, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the rule could be subject to improvement, not just cancellation. “I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA.”
Drilling and Mining on Public Lands. On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country. UPDATE: on March 26, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the Department of the Interior to review over 20 years of national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Specifically, President Trump has asked Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review 24 national monuments created since 1996 and to recommend ways for Congress to shrink or abolish them. The Order requires the department to make preliminary recommendations within 45 days and affects only those monuments that are not larger than 100,000 acres. Currently monuments are now closed to new oil and gas leasing and no new mining claims can be granted there. If monuments are downsized or abolished, they will no longer be protected from drilling or mining.
OMB Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA and NOAA. The proposed budget cuts would reduce EPA’s staff by one fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Specifically, EPA’s staff would be slashed from 15,000 to 12,000. The proposed budget would also cut EPA’s grants to states, including air and water programs, by 30 percent and eliminate 38 separate programs in their entirety. Media outlets also discovered a four page budget memo that would slash NOAA’s budget by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process. UPDATE: On April 28, 217 U.S. Congress passed a bill that would extend until May 5, 2017 the deadline for a deal on federal spending through September and head off a feared government shutdown at midnight on Friday, April 28, 2017.
Republicans Joint Resolution on Climate Change. A group of 17 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. No update since last post.
Bills, Bills Bills
Jason Smith, R-MO
Establishes a commission to identify obsolete and unnecessarily burdensome regulations to be repealed. It also sets goals for the commission to reduce costs by 15 percent and to prioritize major rules that are more than 15 years old and rules that can be eliminated without diminishing effectiveness.
No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
Paul Mitchell, R-MI
Requires independent agencies to submit rules to the Office of Management and Budget before they are published—essentially giving the president tight control of the rule-making process
No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
Tim Walberg, R-MI
Would require agencies to publish more detail of forthcoming rules and regulations
No action since the bill passed the House on 3/2/2017.
Gary Palmer, R-AL
Blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change
No actions taken since the bill was introduced. You can read our analysis of the bill here.
Matt Gaetz, R-FL
Would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018
No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
Sam Johnson, R-TX
Would leave EPA with a budget of less than $1 billion. This bill would eliminate EPA climate change programs and would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused property
No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
The bill works “[t]o prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” This bill is an attempt to revise the EPA’s scientific review process that guides their rulemaking.
No action since bill passed the House on 3/29/2017
This bill aims to update to the national ozone standards, with various provisions that would change the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews standards for particulate matter, lead and other air pollutants.
No action since it was introduced. You can read our blog post from last year when this bill was introduced and failed.
This is a bipartisan bill called the RECLAIM Act that would release $1 billion to create economic development opportunities in coal communities affected by the energy industry’s transition away from dirty fossil fuels.
No action since the bill was introduced.
We are keeping our ear to the ground on any and all developments that could affect clean air and health in Alabama. Be on the look out for regular updates from us about legislative and executive actions that could threaten your health and environment. We will also always provide ways for you to act on any development, whether it’s positive or negative.
Below is the text of a speech given by Kathryn Drago at the “Shelby, show up for science” march April 21. Ms. Drago is a science educator and curriculum developer. She has all but defended her Ph.D. in Science Education from University of Michigan and has M.A. in Research Methods from University of Michigan, an M.S. in Cancer Biology from Stanford University and a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Central High School Falcons, University of Alabama Tide, citizens of West Alabama, look around you. At this Rally for Science, we have students and teachers; citizen scientists and research scientists, beginners and experts. And we’ve all come together today.
No matter how you identify, I have an important message for you. Every single person in this crowd deserves a high quality science education– that is a solid base of science understanding upon which we can build our careers, support our communities, and enjoy our lives. Exceptional science education is guaranteed to us because it is a civil right. It is no less important than the right to free speech or assembly.
I draw my inspiration for this idea from Bob Moses, the great civil rights activist. In the 1960’s, he registered Mississippi sharecroppers to vote. Later, in the 1980’s, he saw that students in his daughter’s school were not provided with the math instruction in eighth grade that they needed to qualify for honors level math in high school.
Bob Moses asked himself the question: Why do students need to study Algebra? The answer was that mathematical literacy set students up for entrance into college, higher paying jobs, and personal success. And so the Algebra Project was born. Its mission was to grow the math abilities of students who had traditionally been underserved and overlooked. Algebra Project alumni had more possibilities open to them. In that way, access to vote is no different from access to math.
The same is true for science education. It is a civil right, yet it is being denied for far too many youth. Let’s take Tuscaloosa for example. In 2016, 15% of 10th graders scored proficient on the standardized science exam. This statistic shows that we are squandering the talents of untold youth. But even worse, this number is an average. The hard truth is that 42% of White 10th graders scored proficient while only 6% of Black 10th graders did so. These numbers are shocking. But what is even more shocking is the cause of these disparities–segregation in schools, unequal distribution of resources, and uneven support for Black students taking advanced classes have caused this. Systemic racism has caused this.
Like Bob Moses did, we ask ourselves the question: Why do students require science education? The answer is that every student deserves access to the highest paying jobs in America. Black and brown students should grow up to be laboratory managers, computer scientists, and doctors making six figures. They are also the ones whose communities are hardest hit by lead in the drinking water, cement dust in the air, and severe storms brought on by climate change. They must be able to raise the alarm and devise the solutions to these human-made problems. And they too should be able to experience the wonder and joy that learning about and participating in science can bring.
Again, I say top notch science education is a civil right, and as such, the government guarantees each of us that right. Algebra Project founder Bob Moses said that it’s time for us to take responsibility for our government. Not that we are asking the government to do something for us, but that in the end, we are the government. And if we do not take responsibility for the government, it will take us to places we don’t want to go.
This administration is taking science education where none of us want to go. Here’s an example: the White House’s budget cut funding to NASA’s Office of Education from $115 million dollars to zero dollars. And what does that cut save? A half of a percent of NASA’s budget.
But what does this cut cost us? Space camp, curricula for teachers, and scholarships for young scientists. In particular, the Minority University Research and Education Project, which helps fund students seeking STEM degrees at historically black colleges and universities, will be eliminated. So, we have a local system that has not provided equitable science learning opportunities, and our federal government has taken away some of the few precious programs that tried to equalize the playing field. This is a disgrace and a shame.
In the absence of elected leadership, let us be our own government. We will take science education where we want it to go. I’m going to challenge us to achieve three goals to that end.
First, let’s educate ourselves about science education. Investigate your area schools. Don’t be satisfied by averages–dig deep into the disparities. Then, give your time, talent, or treasure. If you have time, volunteer. If you have scientific talent, offer your expertise. If you have treasure, improve the school’s material resources.
Second, fight science education injustice whenever you find it. As a student, demand that you be placed in advanced classes, and then ask for the help you need to succeed there. Adults, stand with teachers in receiving the salary they deserve. Reject legislation that increases funding and zoning inequalities in schools.
Third, never give up on science learning. Don’t pay attention to what anyone has told you that you should do. Go to events you wouldn’t normally attend. Stop by a science demonstration at a tailgate. Watch a Nature TV show. Be curious, try things out, take risks. You can be your own science educator. Science education is your civil right, and you deserve it. Thank you all.
The “Shelby, Show Up for Science!” march in Tuscaloosa was organized by the Kudzu Coalition of West Alabama. They describe themselves as “a collection of progressive voices committed to transforming our community through collaborative, direct action.” Check them out on Facebook.