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.
Tosh Sagar Earthjustice attorney 202-797-4300 email
Anne Rolfes Louisiana Bucket Brigade 504-484-3433 email
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.
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 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.”
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.”
Jeff Sessions, Balch & Bingham and Drummond CoMPANY
Environmental Injustice in North Birmingham
by Michael Hansen | March 8, 2018
Mother Jones is reporting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was “deeply involved in coordinating the effort to thwart the EPA cleanup” in north Birmingham — more than we initially thought.
“Not only did his office take the lead on drafting the letter of complaint, it arranged a contentious meeting with EPA officials to press them to back off their efforts to clean up the polluted neighborhood.” (Mother Jones)
The former junior senator from Alabama has for years had deep connections to Balch & Bingham and Drummond Company. The two companies were the second and third largest sources of Sessions’s senate campaign contributions. That’s why we sent a blunt letter to Sessions on August 25, 2017 asking him to recuse himself “from any and all future involvement in the ongoing investigation into public corruption related to the so-called North Birmingham Superfund Site.” Unfortunately, the AG’s office has not deigned to respond to our request. We’ve not heard back in writing or via phone call.
Former EPA Region 4 Administrator McTeer-Toney recalled to Mother Jones that Sessions’s staffers, “were really, really pressing, trying to press senior officials to overrule what our decision was in the region. They wanted to go over our head, way over our head.” McTeer-Toney has since been replaced by former ADEM Director Trey Glenn as Region 4 Administrator.
According to Mother Jones, a December 2015 Balch & Bingham newsletter “touted a meeting with Sessions to discuss the 35th Avenue site and predicted a letter, signed by top Alabama lawmakers, would shortly be sent to the EPA expressing concerns over the agency’s methodology when it came to assigning blame.” Sure enough, Sessions, Sen. Richard Shelby, and Rep. Gary Palmer sent exactly such a letter to the EPA.
“I wish I could say it’s surprising how deep and how wide the public corruption goes with this scandal,” says Gasp Staff Attorney Haley Lewis. “I am disgusted at how many people who are supposed to be acting as public servants are going out of their way to go against the public interest in the northern Birmingham and Tarrant communities. If Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, it’s even more clear he needs to recuse himself from any investigation into the corruption affecting much-needed relief for the residents of the northern Birmingham communities.”
The North Birmingham Environmental Collaboration Project spans four neighborhoods north of downtown Birmingham: Harriman Park, Collegeville, Fairmont, and North Birmingham. Formerly known as the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, the project began in earnest in 2009 when an EPA air toxics study at three Birmingham schools was at the upper end of the range for acceptable levels of risk. The EPA in 2012 tested over 1,100 properties in the area for semi-volatile organic compounds, metals (e.g., arsenic and lead) and polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(a)anthrocene, and benzo(b)fluoranthene. This lead to a large scale remediation plan to remove and replace contaminated soil from properties.
The EPA in 2013 named five companies were named as “potentially responsible parties” (PRPs): Drummond Company, Walter Coke (now ERP Coke), KMAC Services, U.S. Pipe & Foundry Company, and Alagasco (now Spire). Typically PRPs negotiate with the EPA to either cleanup contamination themselves or to reimburse the EPA for their “share” of the cleanup costs. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) gives the EPA the authority to seek repayment through settlement agreements or through the Justice Department. By January 2014, all five PRPs declined to negotiate with the EPA to assist with the cleanup. Soil remediation efforts began the following month with the 52 most contaminated properties.
Gasp has been involved with the community since about 2010 when we began attending Community Advisory Board and neighborhood association meetings. Since then, we have assisted residents by providing technical assistance and legal intervention where possible. On April 18, 2014, Gasp filed extensive comments on ABC Coke’s Title V air pollution permit. A few months later, we did the same with the Walter Coke permit.
On August 26, 2014, Gasp petitioned the Jefferson County Board of Health to disapprove the ABC Coke permit and requested a hearing to argue our case. The Board of Health oversees the Jefferson County Department of Health, which is granted authority from the EPA to regulate air emissions in the county. They rejected our request for a hearing, setting off a lawsuit against the Board of Health that eventually made its way to the Alabama Supreme Court — where we won last year. We have yet to have a hearing on the ABC Coke permit, which is up for its five-year renewal next year.
On July 1, 2014, Gasp petitioned the EPA to conduct a site inspection for hazardous substances near the ABC Coke plant in Tarrant, a suburb of Birmingham that was not included in the 35th Avenue Superfund Site boundary. The EPA ultimately granted that request finding grounds for further investigation. In September 2014, the EPA proposed adding the 35th Avenue Superfund Site to the National Priorities List (NPL), which would have unlocked additional federal funding from the Superfund Trust for cleanup efforts regardless of whether or not the PRPs paid their share. Gasp strongly supported this effort and helped community members submit comments advocating for a comprehensive cleanup and long-term community revitalization. The proposal was never approved.
“I am disgusted at how many people who are supposed to be acting as public servants are going out of their way to go against the public interest in the northern Birmingham and Tarrant communities.” (Haley Lewis, Gasp staff attorney)
Meanwhile, some local and state lawmakers were weighing in opposing our efforts. The Jefferson County Commission passed a resolution condemning our work. The mayor of Tarrant, Loxil Tuck, sent a truly bizarre letter (pictured) via utility bills complaining about us to her constituents. State Sen. Jabo Waggoner sponsored a joint resolution (SJR97) in the Alabama Legislature admonishing the EPA for its actions in northern Birmingham. Attorney General Luther Strange wrote multiple letters to the EPA opposing the cleanup work — and received $50,000 in well-timed campaign contributions from Drummond around before and after those letters were sent. The list goes on and on. (The City of Birmingham was dead silent on the NPL proposal.)
Last year, former-Rep. Oliver Robinson, one Drummond Company executive (David Roberson), and two Balch & Bingham attorneys (Joel Gilbert and Steve McKinney) were indicted by the Department of Justice on corruption charges related to the ongoing environmental cleanup efforts in northern Birmingham. AL.com columnist John Archibald and reporter Kyle Whitmire broke the Robinson story in April 2017 — before he was indicted — detailing how he took more than $130,000 from Balch and Drummond to undermine the EPA’s cleanup efforts and, in particular, Gasp’s work.
Robinson pleaded guilty to the charges and is expected to be sentenced soon, facing up to 100 years in prison. Roberson, Gilbert, and McKinney pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Federal investigators appear to still be trying to gather information.
AL.com natural resources reporter Dennis Pillion wrote an explainer piece for The Birmingham News last year that helps explain the history of the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in the context of the recent corruption revelations: North Birmingham’s 35th Ave EPA Superfund site explained.
In light of the latest revelations from the Mother Jones story today, Gasp is renewing its call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from this investigation entirely.
Ask Jeff Sessions to Recuse Himself
Two powerful lobbyists. One coal company executive. One state legislator. That’s who has been indicted so far in the ongoing North Birmingham corruption investigation. The stakes of the investigation into Drummond & Balch’s pollution-enabling corruption scheme are too high to be trusted to Attorney General Jeff Sessions — a man with an indisputable conflict of interest. Send a letter to Mr. Sessions asking him to recuse himself from this matter.
On Monday, October 9, 2017, the EPA proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan. Once it is published in the Federal Register tomorrow there will be a 60 day public comment period. [Update: read Pruitt’s delusional press release here.] As we have before for the proposed and final rule, Gasp will be commenting. It is not only regrettable, but also disgraceful that we are commenting again, this time against repealing one of the most critical plans to address and combat climate change.
Clearly the motto of this new administration is to repeal, repeal, repeal with no thought of replacing. Where Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times prior to being in charge of the EPA, I cannot say I’m shocked at this announcement. But this is conscience-shocking.