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.
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