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

Environmental Agency Leaders Indicted for Criminal Violations in Alabama

Environmental Agency Leaders Indicted for Criminal Violations in Alabama

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts:
Michael Mullen, President, Environmental Defense Alliance, 334-807-1365, [email protected] 
Michael Hansen, Executive Director, Gasp, 205-746-4666, [email protected]

Environmental Agency Leaders Indicted for Criminal Violations in Alabama

Charges Underscore Need for Reform at Alabama Department of Environmental Management

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (November 13, 2018) — Today, Scott Phillips and Onis “Trey” Glenn III, two high profile leaders formerly in charge of regulating Alabama’s environment, have been indicted. Phillips was charged with multiple violations of Alabama’s Ethics Act, and Glenn was charged with multiple counts of conspiracy and/or complicity with Phillips to violate the Ethics Act.

Prosecutors claim Phillips used his public position for personal gain, and Glenn helped him do it. Phillips is a former member and onetime Chair of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission [AEMC], the appointed body that makes environmental policy for the state. Glenn is a former Director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management [ADEM] and currently leads the eight-state Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] Region 4 for the Trump Administration. The charges in the indictment against Phillips and Glenn are merely accusations made by the Grand Jury. Glenn and Phillips are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The indictments today arise out of efforts by Drummond Co., which owns ABC Coke in Tarrrant, Ala., to stop EPA’s cleanup of contaminated soils and to avoid financial responsibility for that cleanup in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in northern Birmingham. Drummond VP David Roberson and Balch & Bingham lawyer Joel Gilbert were recently convicted and sentenced to 60 months and 30 months in prison, respectively, on federal charges of bribing former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson to oppose the EPA environmental cleanup program. Robinson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 33 months in prison.

Gilbert also hired Glenn and Phillips’s consulting firm, Southeast Engineering & Consulting, to oppose the cleanup. At the time, Phillips was a member of the AEMC. The charges made by the Grand Jury today arise out of that relationship. Phillips sat in meetings as an AEMC member when the cleanup and possible designation of the contaminated area as a Superfund site were discussed. He never disclosed that he and Glenn were being paid to provide services to those who had a significant financial interest in opposing the cleanup. In fact, the contract the two signed prohibited them from disclosing the confidential relationship with Gilbert and others

With the Grand Jury’s allegations of criminal activity now reaching into the AEMC, conservation groups are once again calling out the AEMC for failing to avoid conflicts of interest with those whom they regulate:

“The indictments of Gilbert and Roberson, and now Phillips and Glenn, indicate that serious reforms are needed at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Environmental Management Commission,” said Michael Mullen, president of Environmental Defense Alliance. “The Alabama environmental community will continue to demand those reforms to ensure that Alabamians’ health and environment are protected.”

“These indictments today reinforce what we already know: We need reform and we need it now,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp. “For far too long, leaders in Alabama have put corporate profits ahead of people. We demand that corruption be rooted out and reforms enacted to protect our health and our environment and to ensure environmental justice is a reality for every single Alabamian.”

After the conviction of Gilbert and the Drummond executive, several groups called for reform at the AEMC, but so far have been rebuffed. The Grand Jury’s charges today give these groups renewed hope that meaningful change at the top echelons of ADEM and the AEMC will be implemented.

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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 

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, [email protected] 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.”

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