Tonawanda Coke Settlement Project

On March 28th, twelve jurors found Tonawanda Coke and its environmental control manager Mark Kamholz guilty on violating the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The trial included testimony from over 30 witnesses, many former employees, and lasted over a month. This landmark verdict is only the second time in US history that a company has been indicted under the Clean Air Act – and has set precedent for a number of environmental cases to come.

As Judith A. Enck, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, said to the Buffalo News “The verdict against Tonawanda Coke Corporation and Mark L. Kamholz sends a strong message that companies and individuals can’t simply ignore environmental law and disregard people’s health.”

The verdict was years in the making for our membership. The Coalition began as just a few people sitting around a kitchen table in Tonawanda. We knocked on doors, tested the air, met with elected officials and rallied at the gates of the plant. We held the government’s fee to the fire and demanded they hold Tonawanda Coke accountable. And it worked. Tonawanda Coke was raided, the plant was indicted in federal court, and now found guilty on 14 criminal charges.

Our work is not done. On July 15th Judge William Skretny will sentence the company. The company faces $200 million in fins and Kamholz faces up to 75 years in jail. Over the last few months, our members have been working to keep a portion of the potential fines to be used for community controlled projects in Tonawanda (see the article in the Niagara Gazette).

On May 23rd at 6pm at the Boys and Girls Club (54 Riverdale Rd. by the GM plant in Tonawanda) we will be holding a meeting to hear what residents in the Tonawandas, Grand Island, and Riverside would like to use this money for in their neighborhoods. During this forum, we will explain the federally mandated criteria for potential community projects, and brainstorm real project ideas that could reduce the risks of toxins and improve the health of neighborhoods.

Also on the 23rd, a settlement leadership team will be established to fine tune each project proposal. The projects ideas will be presented in various community locations through June 15th-20th.  Residents will be able to vote on the projects. The top community identified projects will be submitted to decision makers.

This process is built off of the Participatory budgeting process. Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget.  PB was first developed in Brazil in the 1980s as part of a larger effort to establish democracy and citizen participation after decades of military dictorship, political patronage and corruption. PB is now used throughout Latin America, a growing number of European Countries, New York City and Chicago (Learn more about PB here).

What can you do to become involved in this historic process?

1 – Come to our community meeting on May 23rd.

2 – Join the Settlement Leadership Team by calling Rebecca at 852-3813 or signing up on the 23rd.

3. Host a voting day at your local library, club or coffee shop.

4. Volunteer to turn people out to vote! We need folks to volunteer to make phone calls, hand out fliers, and help with mailings. Call our office to volunteer.


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