Flawed Consent Decree Fails Local Communities Impacted by ABC Coke’s Illegal Pollution

Flawed Consent Decree Fails Local Communities Impacted by ABC Coke’s Illegal Pollution

Flawed Consent Decree Fails Local Communities Impacted by ABC Coke’s Illegal Pollution

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Conservation groups are charging that a proposed consent decree is woefully inadequate in addressing the impacts of ABC Coke’s excessive and illegal levels of toxic pollution on local communities around northeast Birmingham and Tarrant, Ala.

On behalf of Gasp, the Southern Environmental Law Center has filed comments in an effort to strengthen the requirements set out by the consent decree entered into by the Jefferson County Board of Health (JCBH) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the Drummond Company regarding ABC Coke’s violations of regulations that prevent benzene pollution. The members of the JCBH are tasked with governing the Jefferson County Department of Health, which is responsible for regulating ABC Coke.

Under the proposed decree announced in February, Drummond has agreed to pay $775,000 in penalties, with $387,500 each going to the JCBH and to EPA. The consent decree also requires Drummond to take steps to stop the unlawful emissions, more than eight years after inspectors discovered that the plant was emitting excess amounts of benzene, a known carcinogen.

In the comments, Gasp and SELC are charging that the proposal lacks essential safeguards to ensure that the violations have stopped and that the public will be able to identify and enforce future violations. The groups are advocating for an increase in penalties, an independent audit of benzene levels, additional public reporting requirements, and for the Jefferson County Department of Health to establish a trust for area residents for which a third party with community-ties would administer.

“If the Jefferson County Department of Health is truly committed to transparency with the public as it claims, taking long overdue steps to restore assurances that it will act in the community’s best interests rather than powerful corporations will require meaningful actions, not just words,” said Gasp Executive Director, Michael Hansen. “At the bare minimum, the community must have a say in how the penalty paid by ABC Coke should be spent—this money should not just go back into the Department’s pocket.”

“After years of violations that the Jefferson County Department of Health has known about and failed to act on, the Board of Health cannot continue to turn a blind eye when it should be holding the Department and ABC Coke’s feet to the fire to permanently address this pollution,” said SELC Senior Attorney, Sarah Stokes. “It is past time for these agencies to be held accountable and to be fully transparent.”

The Jefferson County Health Department has issued ABC Coke’s final Title V permit despite numerous objections from the community and elected officials, and without addressing the benzene violations that are the subject of the consent decree. On behalf of GASP, SELC petitioned EPA to object to the permit last month. EPA has not yet made a decision whether or not to object to the permit.

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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 80 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 advance healthy air and environmental justice in the greater-Birmingham area through education, advocacy and collaboration. We strive to reduce 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

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

Lawsuit Challenges TVA’s Attack on Solar Energy in the South

Lawsuit Challenges TVA’s Attack on Solar Energy in the South

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts
Howard Crystal, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 809-6926, [email protected]
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, (256) 812-1431, [email protected]
Erin Jensen, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0722, [email protected]
Michael Hansen, Gasp, (205) 701-4270, [email protected]
Jennifer Rennicks, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, (865) 235-1448, [email protected]

Lawsuit Challenges TVA’s Attack on Solar Energy in the South

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (September 5, 2018) — Five climate and energy-conservation groups today sued the Tennessee Valley Authority for imposing discriminatory electricity rates that discourage homeowners and businesses from investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Alabama, notes that the utility’s new fixed “grid-access charge” will, for the first time, require its customers to pay a mandatory electricity fee regardless of their energy usage. Such fixed fees make rooftop solar less cost-effective.

The utility is also reducing electricity rates for large businesses. This move encourages companies to continue relying on its fossil fuel-powered energy rather than investing in distributed solar. The new rates also cut costs for the biggest energy users, discouraging efficiency.

The utility’s board of directors, with a majority appointed by President Trump, has now given final approval to all of these rate changes.

“TVA’s outrageous new rates penalize people working hard to save energy and money while rewarding big companies that run up huge electricity bills,” said Howard Crystal, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This perverse plan forces customers to prop up dirty, outmoded power plants instead of transitioning to renewable power. We desperately need clean-energy progress and efficiency investments to protect our communities and the environment.”

As detailed in today’s lawsuit, the utility has failed to disclose the environmental impacts of these rate changes, in violation of federal law. The new rates will inevitably result in more energy generated by power plants that run on fossil fuels — creating unnecessary pollution and worsening the climate crisis. TVA must address the damage the new rates will cause in an environmental impact statement.

“TVA continues to lose its leadership position on renewable energy and energy efficiency. TVA’s rate changes are about one thing and one thing only,” said Daniel Tait, technical director for Energy Alabama. “Killing energy efficiency and renewable energy to protect its monopoly stranglehold on regular folks.”

“Clean, renewable energy like rooftop solar represents a tremendous opportunity in Alabama to create new jobs, generate homegrown energy, save customers and businesses money, and reduce impacts on human health,” said Gasp Executive Director Michae