$1 Million Dollar Community Benefit Fund Released from 2015 Tonawanda Coke Settlement

Over 10 years ago, Clean Air members came together knowing that their health problems were linked to the industrial pollution in their neighborhood. They banned together, tested the air, pounded the pavement, and began a campaign to hold Tonawanda Coke accountable. In 2013, a jury found the company guilty of violating the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This was only the second criminal indictment in United States History of the Clean Air Act and the Hazardous Waste Conservation and Recovery Act. Read about our recent work to cleanup the site here. 

Because we believe that residents who are most impacted by Tonawanda Coke’s pollution should be the ones to decide how the fines are spent, in the summer of 2014, Clean Air worked with Tonawanda residents on a process to keep a portion of the fine money in the community.  Similar to Participatory Budgeting (whats PB? check this link out), residents imagined projects they wanted in their neighborhood, developed them into proposals, and held a community vote with over 600 residents. (See our video!) The top projects were put into a memo and submitted to the US Attorney’s Office and the  Environmental Protection Agency to be included in their sentencing recommendations to the Judge.

While Judge Skretny ultimately overlooked more than 600 residents who voted on the community’s project solutions, and instead awarded  $10M to the University at Buffalo, the vision and hard work with Tonawanda residents did not go to waste: in 2015, a $1M community benefit fund was established through an enforcement settlement  between the Tonawanda Coke, the Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Attorney General’s office. Since the fund’s establishment, Clean Air has advocated for it to be put into action. The fund will be held at the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo. 

Next Tuesday, February 25, the $1M community benefit fund allocation process begins. 

The program will be directed to areas of the community affected by the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, including the Town of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda, Village of Kenmore, the southern portion of the Town of Grand Island, and a portion of the City of Buffalo, including Riverside.

The Community Foundation will host their first participatory community meeting on the fund next Tuesday, February 25th at the Phillips Sheridan Building (3200 Elmwood Avenue). Residents are invited to learn more about the program and how you can get involved. 

Refreshments and registration will take place at 6:30PM, and the meeting will take place at 7:00PM. This is a public event. We encourage anyone to share the event information with others whom you believe should be part of guiding this process.

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