Governor Greenwashes Tonawanda Coke Clean Up; Ignores Resident’s Demands for Enforcement and Accountability

Friday afternoon, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation  (NYSDEC) announced the approval of the  Riverview Innovation & Technology Campus’s tax credit application for the Tonawanda Coke site. The announcement came after nearly a year of hundreds of calls, letters and petitions from the community to reject this public giveaway to manage the site’s legacy waste. 
There are two major pathways in New York State for polluted sites. The Superfund Program is a robust enforceable remediation program,  the New York State Brownfields program is a tax credit program for developers. By approving this application, taxpayers will now reimburse developers for remediation costs, and Tonawanda Coke and Honeywell will avoid full cost recovery for their legacy waste.
“Governor Andrew Cuomo is warping the purpose of the Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). This decision sets a dangerous precedent, reducing the program to a loophole for legally recognized polluters to avoid their financial and environmental responsibility. Clean Air members, and the residents of Western New York deserve better than the Governor’s greenwashing.” said Rebecca Newberry, Executive Director.
“New York State can not afford this corporate welfare due to the fact that there is a projected 5 to 6 Billion Dollar Budget deficit. Governor Cuomo is passing the buck for remediation to the tax-payer.” Gary Schulenberg, Clean Air member.
NYSDEC’s decision mentioned an “availability session” where members of NYSDEC staff will be available to discuss the next steps of the process. Clean Air members are dubious of the state’s commitment to public involvement, given that the state refused requests for a public hearing on this issue before they approved the decision.

Tonawanda Coke was found guilty in March 2013 of breaking 14 federal laws under the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Mark Kamholz was found guilty on the same counts and an additional count of obstruction of justice.

Since the EPA’s enforcement action, there was a reported 92% reduction in benzene from the continuous air monitor at Grand Island Blvd. and a 68% reduction at the air monitor on Brookside Terrace. The company was fined $12.5 million in fines, 5 years of probation, and to pay nearly $12 million for future health and environmental studies. Mark Kamholz was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in prison for plus a $20,000 fine and a supervised release after serving the term.

In the fall of 2018, the Tonawanda Coke company was found guilty of violating their criminal probation related to a 2014 environmental criminal sentence. Shortly after this verdict, the company’s leadership filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company ceased operations at the facility on October 14, 2018 and permanently vacated the site. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently on  site managing immediate risks to human health and the environment.

The laws are here to project the people, not to reward the corporate giants and the polluters.” Maria Tisby, Clean Air Member.

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