GASP has been raising awareness of the toxic air pollution affecting Birmingham since our inception. As soon as the EPA named the potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”) for the contamination in the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, we got to work advocating for stronger Title V air pollution permits, regulatory transparency, and accountability for decades of environmental injustice.
Last year, the permits for two of those PRPs — ABC Coke and Walter Coke — were up for renewal with JCDH, so we activated the surrounding communities to call for public hearings and informational meetings to facilitate public participation. We filed extensive comments on both of those permits. When JCDH re-issued those permits last August without significant changes to protect public health and prevent air pollution, we appealed the permits directly to the Jefferson County Board of Health, which oversees the health department.
Our request for a hearing on the ABC Coke permit has been stuck in limbo ever since. We have been battling a flurry of motions by both ABC Coke and JCDH to dismiss our appeal. We recently learned that the JCDH-appointed hearing officer, James H. Hard IV, has accepted ABC Coke’s “proposed findings, conclusions of law, and recommendation” to dismiss our appeal.
What does that mean? Judge Hard has recommended that the BOH review the proposed order and dismiss GASP’s appeal at its next meeting on Wednesday, April 8 at 5 p.m. at the Jefferson County Department of Health in the 5th Floor Board Room. (It’s a public meeting, for anyone interested in attending.)
ABC Coke is one of the top sources of toxic air pollution in the Birmingham area. The Board of Health could very well rubber-stamp the hearing officer’s proposed order without debate on the findings or legal merits of our complaint. Furthermore, our appeal of the Walter Coke permit could be impacted by what happens Wednesday regarding the ABC Coke appeal. In other words, if the Board of Health dismisses our appeal based on ABC Coke’s own findings, then it’s possible the Board will subsequently dismiss the Walter Coke appeal on similar grounds.
The Board of Health must be held accountable for its actions should it wrongfully dismiss GASP’s petition on behalf of the affected citizens in northern Birmingham and Tarrant. A hearing on JCDH’s issuance of ABC Coke’s permit is a critical step in the efforts of many to reduce Birmingham’s air pollution and improve the health of everyone who lives and works in Jefferson County. This continued environmental injustice must be exposed.
Stay tuned for further news after the Board of Health meeting and what’s next. In the meantime, please consider making a donation to GASP so that we can continue this vitally important work to protect public health and prevent air pollution.
Related: Watch the “Toxic City” trailer below.
Michael joined GASP in 2013 as communications specialist. He has lived in Birmingham since 2008, and is an active member of the Birmingham community. He’s a passionate advocate for health equity, civil rights and equality. He is currently serving as executive director. Email Michael