Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Complaints stem from federal corruption case related to the North Birmingham Superfund Site

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Gasp and the Environmental Defense Alliance today filed joint complaints against Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Director Lance LeFleur, Environmental Management Commissioner (EMC) Lanier Brown, and Attorney General (AG) Steve Marshall.

The complaints allege that LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall violated the Alabama Open Records Act by knowingly and without authority withholding public records lawfully requested by the organizations pertaining to the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in the North Birmingham community (35th Avenue Site).

The two organizations requested various records from LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall before, during, and after the 2018 federal trial of former Drummond Company executive David Roberson and former Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert, both of whom were found guilty of multiple corruption charges.

In 2013, Drummond was identified as a “potentially responsible party” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for contamination in the 35th Avenue Site. In 2014, the EPA proposed adding the 35th Avenue Site to the National Priorities List and began investigating potential contamination in the Tarrant and Inglenook communities. Together with Balch & Bingham, Drummond sought to influence public officials — including LeFleur, Brown, and then-AG Luther Strange — to oppose the EPA’s cleanup activities.

“LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall declined to disclose many governmental records that EDA and Gasp believe should be made public,” said EDA attorney David Ludder.  “These records may reveal new evidence of collusion between State government officials and Drummond or its agents to protect Drummond’s wealth at the expense of the community’s health,” Ludder said.

“Gasp has for years been working to ensure that air pollution in the area is reduced and that any cleanup includes long-term remediation that benefits the residents of the impacted neighborhoods,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “To that end, we have tried to use every tool in the toolbelt, including the Open Records Act, to make sure residents get a fair shake. Alabamians deserve a government that works to protect them and not wealthy special interests.”

For more information, contact Michael Hansen, ([email protected]) or David Ludder ([email protected]).

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Gasp’s mission is to advance healthy air and environmental justice in the Greater-Birmingham area through education, advocacy and collaboration. gaspgroup.org

The Environmental Defense Alliance strategically uses law and policy to protect human health and the environment. environmentaldefensealliance.org

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabamians have the right to know what is going on at their Public Service Commission

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — On Friday, May 15, a broad group of advocates filed joint comments challenging the legality — including the constitutionality — of the Alabama Public Service Commission’s proposed Media Coverage Plan, which would grant Alabama Power enormous power to control what the public knows about its operations in the state. The coalition, led by Gasp, Sierra Club, and Energy Alabama, was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, Alabama Arise, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and Faith in Action Alabama, among others.

The PSC’s media policy would create severe limitations for public access to hearings and other proceedings before the PSC. It requires five days’ prior consent for any recording of hearings, but also grants the PSC the power to rescind consent for recording at any time, and for any reason. Additionally, the policy mandates that the PSC revoke licenses provided to persons or media outlets upon the request of any party, attorney or witness, giving broad power to special interests. Such restrictions contravene the state’s Open Meetings Act and the U.S. Constitution’s protections for free speech, and are wildly out of step with neighboring states like Georgia and Mississippi, where similar proceedings are open to public recordings and live streamed.

Michael Hansen, executive Director of Gasp, issued the following statement:

“The Alabama Public Service Commission’s mission is right in the name: they serve the people of Alabama, not corporations. Open, transparent, and accessible government is not an option, but a requirement for the Commission to operate in the best interest of all Alabamians. Utility bills are a kitchen table issue, and Alabama’s families deserve to see how the decisions that impact them are made.”

Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer at Energy Alabama, issued the following statement:

“Sunshine is good, both for transparency and power production. Alabamians deserve to know how their utility bills will be affected by their elected officials. There’s simply no common sense reason to limit public access to decisions worth billions of dollars.”

Stephen Stetson, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, issued the following statement: 

“Everyone’s got utility bills and everyone should be able to easily observe PSC proceedings. It’s the public’s right to know what decisions are being made that will affect their lives. This policy erects a barrier to entry for information that should be freely available, and topples the scales in favor of powerful entities like Alabama Power at the expense of regular folks.”

For more information, contact Michael Hansen ([email protected]), Emily Bosch ([email protected]), or Daniel Tait ([email protected]).

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Alabama Power, Alabama PSC Should Protect Consumers During COVID-19

Alabama Power, Alabama PSC Should Protect Consumers During COVID-19

Alabama Power, Alabama PSC Should Protect Consumers During COVID-19

Contact:
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, [email protected], 256-812-1431
Michael Hansen, Gasp, [email protected], 205-746-4666

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 15, 2020) — Gasp and Energy Alabama are calling on Alabama Power to immediately suspend shutoffs and late fees through at least May 1, 2020 for customers who find themselves unable to pay their electric bills during the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

Gasp and Energy Alabama believe that if Alabama Power will not act, the Alabama Public Service Commission has a duty to all Alabamians to act immediately. Further, the Alabama Public Service Commission should issue an order suspending shutoffs for all regulated electric, gas, and water utilities.

“Alabama is one of the poorest and least healthy states in the U.S., and Alabama Power customers pay some of the highest electricity bills in the nation,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp. “That’s a recipe for disaster. Those most at-risk will only be made more vulnerable if they lose electricity during this national crisis. Alabama Power has a moral responsibility to suspend cutoffs and late fees for all customers.”

Governor Kay Ivey declared a State of Emergency on Friday, March 13 after the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the State of Alabama.

Georgia Power, owned by the same parent company as Alabama Power, announced it would suspend residential shutoffs for thirty days, beginning on March 14. On March 15, the Mississippi Public Service Commission issued an emergency order on suspending all shutoffs for electric, gas, water, and sewer for sixty days.

“Alabama Power should have acted days ago to protect consumers, especially as its sister company Georgia Power has already acted,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama. “That advocacy organizations like Energy Alabama and Gasp have to force the company to do the right thing is a failure of leadership at the highest level.”

Utilities across the country are suspending shutoffs for late payment during the COVID-19, as reported by the Energy and Policy Institute.

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About Energy Alabama
Energy Alabama is a nonprofit organization accelerating Alabama’s transition to sustainable energy. We accomplish our mission by educating at all levels, informing smart energy policy, building the next-generation workforce, and providing technical assistance to deploy more sustainable energy. We believe in sustainable energy for all. energyalabama.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 models by advocating for clean air and clean energy. gaspgroup.org

Experts Expose Flaws in Alabama Power’s Billion Dollar Request

Experts Expose Flaws in Alabama Power’s Billion Dollar Request

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts
Emily Driscoll, Southern Environmental Law Center, [email protected], 404-641-8108
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, [email protected], 256-812-1431
Michael Hansen, Gasp, [email protected], 205-746-4666

Experts Expose Glaring Flaws in Alabama Power’s Billion Dollar Request 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Hearings concluded late yesterday before the Alabama Public Service Commission concerning Alabama Power’s petition to add nearly 2.4 gigawatts of new capacity, a proposal that will cost customers at least $1.1 billion.

On behalf of Energy Alabama and Gasp, the Southern Environmental Law Center intervened in the docket to question Alabama Power’s lack of evidentiary support to build and buy such a significant amount of new gas resources.

Over the course of three days, 15 expert witnesses provided testimony and responded to questions under cross examination from Alabama Power, SELC and other intervenors concerning the utility’s request to increase its total power-producing capabilities by almost 20%. The utility previously asserted it wouldn’t need new generation sources until 2035.

Energy Alabama and Gasp’s experts exposed significant flaws in Alabama Power’s planning and justification processes. In written and oral testimony, the experts pointed to the utility’s long-standing efforts to build rate base and revenue requirements through excessive, unnecessary, and expensive new generation, all of which will increase costs for customers for decades.

“Alabama Power simply did not produce the evidence it needed to in order to justify such an unprecedented expense,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama.  “Alabama Power wants to write checks that benefit its shareholders, while the rest of us bear all the risks and financial burden even though our electric bills are already among the highest in the nation.”

“Alabama Power’s proposal is inconsistent with its own parent company’s low-to-no carbon pledge, and is the wrong path for Alabamians looking for lower electric bills and a more sustainable grid,” said Michael Hansen, Executive Director of Gasp. “Alabama Power claims it needs more than a billion dollars’ worth of new, mostly fossil fuel generation to address a supposed trend toward extreme cold—this proposal simply doesn’t reflect the world we’re living in and won’t get us to a lower carbon future we urgently need to reach.”

“Alabama Power’s own analysis shows that clean energy is the more affordable alternative, yet it is pushing for a massive amount of new, expensive capacity for which Alabamians will be on the hook for decades,” said SELC staff attorney Christina Andreen Tidwell. “As the utility itself has noted, businesses and customers are increasingly demanding renewable energy—it’s time to listen to Alabamians who want energy decisions that benefit us, not shareholders.”

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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 models by advocating for clean air and clean energy. gaspgroup.org

About Energy Alabama: Energy Alabama is a membership-based non-profit organization accelerating Alabama’s transition to sustainable energy. We accomplish our mission by educating at all levels, informing smart energy policy, building the next generation workforce, and providing technical assistance to deploy more sustainable energy. We believe in sustainable energy for all. energyalabama.org

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

Legal Petition: TVA Violating Customers’ Rights by Giving Millions to Dirty Energy Lobbyists

Legal Petition: TVA Violating Customers’ Rights by Giving Millions to Dirty Energy Lobbyists

Legal Petition: TVA Violating Customers’ Rights by Giving Millions to Dirty Energy Lobbyists

Contact: Howard Crystal, (202) 809-6926, [email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations petitioned the Tennessee Valley Authority today to stop giving millions of dollars in ratepayer money to anti-environmental advocacy groups like the Edison Electric Institute and Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition.

Today’s rulemaking petition, filed under the Administrative Procedures Act, notes that these groups litigate and lobby to deny protections to imperiled wildlife, delay the critical transition to clean energy and hamper efforts to combat climate change. TVA is violating its customers’ First Amendment rights by compelling them to fund this work against the interest of Tennessee Valley communities, the petitioners say.

“TVA claims to care about our climate, but it’s giving millions in ratepayer money to lobby groups fighting the crucial transition to clean energy,” said Howard Crystal, legal director at the Center’s Energy Justice Program. “There’s a desperate need to support clean power and the energy needs of low-income customers. Instead TVA is dumping big bucks into organizations that undermine protections for our climate and the air we breathe.”

TVA spends millions of dollars supporting groups engaged in controversial political advocacy. The agency pays more than $500,000 a year to Edison Electric, which has fought to roll back state incentives for rooftop solar. TVA has also paid more than $7 million to the Utility Air Regulatory Group, which has been involved in a large number of lawsuits challenging federal clean air rules.

Although TVA claims it pays these groups for other services, in 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects against compelled payments to unions due to their political activities, regardless of the specific use of those payments. Similarly, today’s petition notes, TVA ratepayers may not be forced through their electricity rates to fund these groups at all.

TVA also donates millions of dollars of ratepayer funds to charitable organizations. Today’s petition also calls on TVA to allow its customers to make their own decisions on where to devote their charitable dollars.

“TVA should immediately stop giving their customers’ money to special interest lobbyists to promote backward-looking energy policies,” said Glen Brand, vice president of policy and advocacy for Solar United Neighbors. “Forcing ratepayers to finance policies counter to their own interests is simply wrong.”

The petition asks TVA to issue new regulations that would proscribe these payments, and gives TVA 30 days to respond.

“TVA should stick to its mission instead of funding the fight against clean energy with ratepayers’ money,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, or Gasp. “Transitioning to clean, renewable energy as quickly as possible in a just and equitable way will undoubtedly improve the quality of life for those who live, work and play in the valley.”

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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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Alabama Groups File Motion to Intervene in ABC Coke Consent Decree

Alabama Groups File Motion to Intervene in ABC Coke Consent Decree

For Immediate Release

Contact
Emily Driscoll, Southern Environmental Law Center, [email protected], 678-686-8482
Michael Hansen, Gasp, [email protected], 205-746-4666

Alabama Groups File Motion to Intervene in ABC Coke Consent Decree

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.  (January 29, 2020) — Conservation groups have filed a motion to intervene in ongoing efforts to approve a proposed settlement to address ABC Coke’s illegal emissions of benzene and the impacts on communities around northeast Birmingham and Tarrant, Ala., charging that the involved parties have failed to create a consent decree strong enough to ensure that the discharges are halted.

On behalf of Gasp, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed the motion and proposed complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama late yesterday in response to the lax terms set out by the consent decree agreed to by the Jefferson County Board of Health (JCBH) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the Drummond Company. The members of the JCBH are tasked with governing the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH), which is responsible for regulating ABC Coke and its ongoing violations of benzene pollution, a known carcinogen.

Joining concerns expressed by local community members and elected officials, the groups claim the settlement, as written, lacks essential safeguards to ensure that the violations have stopped and hinders the public’s ability to identify and enforce future violations.

In the proposed consent decree, JCDH has agreed to post Drummond’s semiannual reports to its website verifying Drummond’s progress. The groups contend that Drummond’s self-reporting is not adequate and are urging the agencies to require an independent audit to assess what’s been done to reach compliance.

“With ABC Coke’s lengthy history of violations and a pattern of practice of hiding them, we continue to have significant concerns about the lack of transparency,” said SELC Senior Attorney, Sarah Stokes. “We must hold Drummond, EPA, and the Jefferson County Department of Health accountable to a plan that results in a protective, permanent solution to this legacy of pollution—anything short of that is unacceptable.”

Echoing comments submitted by Gasp and SELC last summer, the motion asks that Gasp be a party to the consent decree in order to be able to call for an increase in the penalty amount for violations, an independent audit of benzene levels, additional public reporting requirements, and for the JCDH to establish a trust fund for area residents which a third party with community-ties would administer.

“The families and workers who have been breathing ABC Coke’s toxic and illegal pollution for close to a decade deserve better,” said Gasp Executive Director, Michael Hansen. “Drummond should get more than a slap on the wrist. It’s past time for the Health Department to work with impacted communities to ensure tangible steps are being taken to put their health and wellbeing ahead of Drummond’s bottom line.”

Under the proposed consent decree filed in February 2019, Drummond agreed to pay $775,000 in penalties, with $387,500 going to JCBH and to EPA respectively. 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.

The JCDH recently renewed ABC Coke’s Title V permit despite numerous objections from local communities 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 in June 2019. EPA has not yet made a decision whether or not to object to the permit.

For more information, contact Emily Driscoll at the Southern Environmental Law Center ([email protected], 678-686-8482) or Michael Hansen at Gasp ([email protected], 205-701-4270).

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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

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