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

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 Michael Hansen. “TVA’s so-called ‘grid access charge’ will disincentivize solar energy and all its benefits.”

“The TVA’s notoriously high bills already force working families and low-income households to choose between feeding their families and keeping the lights on,” said Damon Moglen, senior strategic advisor with Friends of the Earth. “Now customers are being forced to bolster the highly polluting fossil fuel industry by paying even more for their electric bills. We must end the TVA’s disastrous and unfair practices and transition to a clean energy system that is accessible and affordable to everyone.”

“TVA’s move to increase fixed fees on monthly bills is intended to undercut customers’ ability to control energy costs through energy efficiency and solar investments,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “TVA is trying to mislead people by talking about their ‘low rates’ but energy consumers don’t pay rates, they pay bills, which are calculated as a rate times consumption plus fixed fees. Customers in the TVA service territory have some of the highest bills in the United States. The devious ‘grid access charge’ will only accelerate the high-bills problem by increasing fixed fees and stifling efforts to control electric consumption by families and small businesses, leading to higher costs and more pollution. This legal action seeks to educate people about what is happening to them each and every month.”

TVA is a federally owned corporation and the nation’s largest public power provider. It generates electricity for more than 9 million customers in Tennessee, northern Alabama, northeastern Mississippi, southwestern Kentucky, and portions of northern Georgia, western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.

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Sign the Petition: Solar for All Alabamians

Show your support of solar for all Alabamians. We’ll let you know about further actions you can take to let our leaders know that Alabama citizens should have more choice and lower costs when it comes to solar.

Gasp, Conservation Groups Demand Lance LeFleur’s Resignation or Termination

Gasp, Conservation Groups Demand Lance LeFleur’s Resignation or Termination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Eleven Conservation Groups Call for ADEM Director’s Resignation or Termination ahead of Annual Job Evaluation

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 30, 2018) — The bribery and corruption trial U.S. v. Gilbert, et al yielded many disturbing revelations, including the failures of leaders at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the Alabama Environmental Management Commission (AEMC) to avoid conflicts of interest with those whom they regulate.

There and in many other instances, ADEM Director Lance LeFleur has failed to lead the Department in a manner that advances its official mission “to assure for all citizens of the State a safe, healthful and productive environment.”

Coincidentally, LeFleur’s annual job evaluation and public comments are due today, July 30.

This morning, Black Warrior Riverkeeper emailed its evaluation of Director LeFleur to the Personnel Committee of the AEMC, which oversees ADEM. The letter calls for LeFleur’s resignation or termination due to his consistent failure to lead and advance ADEM’s mission.

Groups signing Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s letter include Alabama Rivers Alliance, Cahaba River Society, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Environmental Defense Alliance, Friends of Hurricane Creek, Friends of the Locust Fork River, Gasp, Little River Waterkeeper, and Tennessee Riverkeeper.

For more information, contact Black Warrior Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Eva Dillard at [email protected] or 205-458-0095.

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About Black Warrior Riverkeeper

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. The citizen-based nonprofit organization promotes clean water for the sake of public health, recreation, and wildlife habitat throughout the Black Warrior River watershed.

Ask Trey Glenn to Recuse Himself

EPA Region 4 Administrator Trey Glenn was paid by Balch & Bingham and Drummond Company as a consultant on the 35th Avenue Superfund Site. He has a clear and lasting conflict of interest and therefore must recuse himself permanently from all EPA matters involving the 35th Avenue Site or former clients.

Advocates Reject the Trump Administration’s Rollback of Clean Car Standards

Advocates Reject the Trump Administration’s Rollback of Clean Car Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BIRMINGHAM ELECTED OFFICIALS, COMMUNITY LEADERS, AND STUDENT ADVOCATES REJECT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S ROLLBACK OF CLEAN CAR STANDARDS

Leaders Urged Administration to Respect State Authority to Protect Residents from Dangerous Tailpipe Pollution

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 24, 2018) — Today, Birmingham-area elected officials, community leaders, and student advocates came together to denounce the Trump Administration’s planned rollback of the clean car standards. Speakers condemned Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Heidi King’s plan to reverse the clean car standards and restrict states’ authority to protect their citizens from harmful tailpipe pollution – an unprecedented violation of public health, air quality, and common sense. Even the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, which includes members handpicked by former Administrator Scott Pruitt, have questioned the scientific justifications for the rollbacks.

Speakers highlighted the pocketbook savings of the existing clean car standards. If these standards are left unchanged from the strong version put in place in 2012 with the support of automakers, environmental groups, and labor groups, the average Alabama family will save $2,650 at the gas pump over the life of their vehicle. In addition, Alabama could expect 11,900 new jobs by 2030 as a result of the standards.

“Americans overwhelmingly want cleaner, more efficient cars,” said Tammy Herrington, Executive Director of Conservation Alabama. “Making cars that go farther on a gallon of gas is common sense. It puts money back in our citizens’ pockets, lessens our dependence on oil, and reduces the pollution to our air and communities.”

“Only a few years ago, there were red flag warnings about the ozone levels in Jefferson County and metro Birmingham. Children could not play outside, people with breathing disorders were at very high risk from the exposure, and emergency rooms were filling up.” said State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison. “Through clean car standards, people began buying cleaner, more efficient vehicles. Everyone benefited, not just with cleaner air, but consumers saved money at the pump.”

“Clean cars help everyone” said Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman. “They save money for local governments and protects our citizens’ health while helping to keep the global environment clean.”

Speakers also discussed the impact that the rollbacks will have on low-income families and communities of color. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in areas near highways and traffic zones, which have higher levels of air pollution. America’s clean car standards protect these communities from harmful tailpipe pollution and need to remain in place to safeguard the areas that are hit worst and first by climate change.

MEDIA CONTACT
Brian O’Shea
952-393-2986
[email protected]

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About Gasp

Headquartered in Birmingham, Gasp is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit health advocacy organization working to reduce air pollution in Alabama through education and advocacy. Our vision is a healthy, just, and sustainable Alabama. We strive to educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality and to encourage community leaders to serve as role models for clean air and clean energy development.


Below are Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen’s remarks from the press conference:

My name is Michael Hansen and I am the executive director of Gasp. We are a nonprofit organization working to reduce Alabama’s air pollution through education and advocacy. At Gasp, we talk about air pollution through the lens of health. And that’s because air pollution is the single greatest environmental risk factor for premature death and disease in the world.

“I am here to represent hundreds of Gasp members and thousands of supporters across the Birmingham area who depend on strong public health protections like the clean car standards. Vehicle emissions are linked to a number of serious health problems. For example, it can trigger asthma attacks, exacerbate lung and heart conditions, and even lead to premature death.

“We strongly oppose actions by this administration to stall or roll back the national clean car standards. We cannot afford to go backwards. Rolling back the clean car standards will harm our health, our environment, and our economy. It will allow automakers to make dirtier cars that pollute the air and harm our health. More than half a million children and adults in Alabama suffer from asthma. Those people will be more at risk if we allow these public health protections to be rolled back.

“Not only does the pollution from vehicles hurt us today, but it puts us at risk tomorrow as well. Transportation is now the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Carbon pollution is a greenhouse gas, and greenhouse gases cause climate change. Pumping more carbon pollution into our air could lead to more intense and destructive extreme weather events like heat waves, flooding, wildfires and droughts. Rolling back the clean car standards would put millions of lives at risk and jeopardize the health of future generations.

“Finally, I want to emphasize that while air pollution does not discriminate, our policies can and do. In particular, I want to draw attention to the fact that mountains of research has shown that low-income families and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to and harmed by air pollution. Air pollution is especially harmful to children of color. Did you know that black kids are 10 times more likely to die from asthma? The Trump administration’s rollback of the clean car standards will hurt low-income families and communities of color most.

“Everyone — no matter where they live, how much money they have in the bank, or what color their skin is — deserves clean, healthy air to breathe.”

[Featured photo courtesy Dennis Pillion, al.com.]

Official Statement: Convictions a First Step in Securing Justice for North Birmingham

Official Statement: Convictions a First Step in Securing Justice for North Birmingham

OFFICIAL STATEMENT

Corruption Convictions First Step in Securing Justice for North Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 23, 2018) — On Friday, July 20, a jury found Balch & Bingham Attorney Joel Gilbert and Drummond Company Vice President David Roberson guilty of six counts each of federal corruption charges, including: bribery, conspiracy, honest service wire fraud, and money laundering. The two men are expected to be sentenced in three months.

 

Former State Rep. Oliver Robinson pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiracy, bribery, tax evasion, and four counts of fraud. Robinson received bribes totaling $360,000 from Drummond and Balch & Bingham through the Oliver Robinson Foundation to advocate against EPA efforts to clean up contamination in and around north Birmingham and Tarrant. He will be sentenced in September.

As a result of the guilty verdict, Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen issued the following statement:

“This was a great outcome for the people of north Birmingham and all of Alabama. It is rare that corruption is rooted out, and it’s even more rare that those who do the corrupting are held accountable. We could not be more proud that our years of dogged legal and advocacy work led to the exposure of corruption.

While we are thrilled that justice was upheld for the people of north Birmingham, we are cognizant of the fact that this is not the end, but rather a beginning. We are calling all of our friends and neighbors to join us in committing to the fight for environmental justice for every Alabamian. Now is the time to become a member of Gasp and to join with us as we reaffirm our commitment to the people of Collegeville, Harriman Park, North Birmingham, Fairmont, Tarrant, Inglenook, and all of the city’s 99 neighborhoods.”

Media Contact

Michael Hansen, Executive Director
[email protected] or 205-701-4270

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About Gasp

Headquartered in Birmingham, Gasp is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit health advocacy organization working to reduce air pollution in Alabama through education and advocacy. Our vision is a healthy, just, and sustainable Alabama. We strive to educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality and to encourage community leaders to serve as role models for clean air and clean energy development.

“Toxic City: Birmingham’s Dirty Secret”

In 2014, Gasp produced a short documentary called “Toxic City: Birmingham’s Dirty Secret,” which highlighted several individual stories from those neighborhoods. (Watch the trailer above.) In 2014, Gasp petitioned the EPA to look into potential contamination in the nearby Tarrant and Pinson Valley areas that border the 35th Avenue Site. That investigation was approved and is ongoing. We also have two pending Title VI complaints with the EPA against the Jefferson County Department of Health alleging the the air permits for Walter Coke and ABC Coke have a disparate impact on predominantly African-American communities.