Will Toxic Sampling Plan Be Enough to Address the Legacy Of Hazardous Waste at Tonawanda Coke?

Community organization calls to ensure that Honeywell International performs comprehensive evaluation of hazardous contamination 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has released the Riverview Innovation and Technology Campus Plan for sampling toxics at the former Tonawanda Coke site.  The sampling plan, known as a Remedial Investigation Work Plan, is the foundational document inside of the Brownfield Cleanup Program that will set the course for future soil, water, air and vegetation sampling, and ultimately the quality of cleanup,  on the site. The plan can be found on the DEC’s website and is now available for a 30-day public comment period. 

The Clean Air Coalition is calling to ensure that Honeywell International performs comprehensive evaluation of hazardous contamination. Tonawanda Coke has a nearly 100-year history of toxic contamination, and large portions of the site and its infrastructure remain uncharacterized and unaddressed in this workplan.

Clean Air Coalition members are encouraging residents to submit comments to the DEC to share their thoughts and concerns regarding the proposed testing plan. Clean Air has been working with community members, environmental scientists, certified hydrologists, civil engineers, and former workers  to deeply review over 100 years of site history and contamination. Clean Air members are also calling for the DEC to establish a Community Advisory Board in line with Federal Superfund Standards that would give community members and other stakeholders review, comment and decision making powers over the testing and remediation work done on the Superfund and Brownfield sites. 

“The NYSDEC is required to keep residents safe and secure. Now is the time for the community to weigh in. Our community has institutional knowledge on the extensive history of contamination on this site and the NYSDEC needs to incorporate what we know in the sampling plan moving forward.  We need a robust sampling plan that addresses all areas of concern, or else we won’t except the remediation remedy” – Emily Terrana, Clean Air Organizer 

Tonawanda Coke is one of the most well known hazardous waste sites in the country. In 2014 the site was recognized as the only company in the history of the United States that was found guilty of 14 criminal accounts of violations of the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the federal law that governs ground contamination of hazardous waste. 

Tonawanda Coke has caused tremendous quality of life issues in our community, including decades of land, air and water pollution, worker’s harm and fatalities, and now leaves us with a legacy of contamination. The current proposals for cleanup and restoration of the site must center community input and a rigorous and thorough testing protocol that guarantees a higher and better use of the site for generations to come. 

“In environmental restoration, we really only get one chance in our lifetime to get it right. Doing it the cheapest and fastest way is not only disrespectful but unjust to ourselves and our future. It cripples any higher and better future use and costs good jobs and vibrant economy. The Tonawanda Coke site along the Niagara River deserves better than that. Abandoned properties significantly impact our neighborhoods and communities and we should be able to have a say about the future when our tax money is being used. What is in the public’s best interest?” -James Jones, Clean Air member and Tonawanda resident.

In 2020, the Tonawanda Coke site was split into four distinct parcels for remediation: three are now part of the State Superfund Program, and the remaining parcel has been accepted into the State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program. Notably, the Superfund sites’ (sites 108, 109 and 110) remediation costs are being paid for by the primary polluter, Honeywell International Inc. The 86 acre Brownfield portion is being remediated by Riverview Innovation & Technology Campus and OSC, who’s costs will be cushioned by New York State taxpayers. For more information on the NYS Brownfield and Superfund Programs see this video.

The Clean Air Coalition will be holding an informational meeting with the community to share their areas of concerns for cleanup and how to submit a comment to the DEC.

The online meeting will be held Thursday, July 9th at 6pm. Register at bit.ly/tccpublicmeeting

 



Attorney General James Files Injunction Against Trump’s EPA Order

The Clean Air Coalition stands behind the New York Attorney General James’  preliminary injunction motion filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on June 8th, 2020. Nine million people in New York State alone live in vulnerable zones close to facilities that are regulated by the EPA and are currently more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to air and water pollution. Attorney General James’ swift actions to protect the health and dignity of environmental justice communities in New York and throughout the nation is a beacon of hope for poor and working class people and people of color living on the borders of toxic and dangerous industries.  Read more in the Buffalo News.

The preliminary injunction motion, more commonly known as a “cease and desist”, follows AG James and a coalition of eight other states across the country’s landmark lawsuit filed on May 13th 2020 in response to the EPA’s broad suspension of environmental protections and regulation reporting requirements on March 26th, 2020.

As our country faces the impacts of systemic racism on Black people and other people of color, it is our duty to place the blame where blame is due. The disregard for the health, dignity and safety of communities of color and poor and working class white communities is a direct symptom of a white supremacist culture that values profit over people’s lives. The EPA’s suspension of environmental laws and regulations is directly tied to a legacy of cutting public services, public health and holistic public safety programs, laws and policies that benefit Black, people of color and poor and working class white people for the sake of profit and control of the white, owning class.

It remains critically important that the State of New York follow the lead of environmental justice communities in calling the EPA’s suspension of environmental regulations what it is; a callous and cruel disregard for the health and wellbeing of communities of color and poor and working class people during a public health pandemic. Our members throughout Western New York depend on the EPA to do their job to keep us safe.

Clean Air applauds Attorney General James’ suit which outlines the direct impact the EPA’s actions have had and will have on communities of color, and white poor and working class people, living in environmental justice communities. Attorney General James’ preliminary injunction motion will begin again the necessary work of reporting and enforcement that the EPA is charged with for our people.

Read the full complaint below

Download (PDF, 606KB)



Thank you! Join us in committing to take action.

Hello comrades and friends, 

Thank you so much for joining us for Clean Air’s event, Growing Strong Together: An Open House to Root our Power. Over 60 of us came together during an incredibly difficult time… in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade and with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to demand justice, the end to white supremacy, and the end to systematic racism. 

A week later, we write this email one day after Buffalo City Council Members approved a budget that allocates ⅓ of our municipal funds to the Buffalo Police Department. We have joined with our friend’s at Black Love Resists in the Rust to demand the City of Buffalo decrease funding to the Buffalo Police Department and increase funding for community needs like schools, programs, mental health services, and affordable housing. 

We are beyond disappointed that this budget was approved. We are angry. And we are committed to demand more from our leaders. Will you join us in demanding more now and into the future?

Below is information about how to take action. Additionally, please take five minutes to let us know what you thought of the Open House by filling out the event evaluation form: HERE

  

TAKE A STAND AGAINST POLICE KILLINGS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE

 

OPEN HOUSE RESOURCES

 

When our work is funded from the ground up, it not only ensures that we maintain power over the decisions we make and the actions we take, but it is also one of the most powerful tools we have in building grassroots community power. If we continue to have authentic and honest connections, creating real relationships with one another, we will build the collective power necessary to stop injustice AND reimagine a world that we can all live in. And so we invite you to join us by becoming a member or supporter today. 

 

SUPPORT CLEAN AIR’S CAMPAIGN TEAMS

  • Tonawanda Coke: Please sign our petition for the DEC to create a Community Advisory Board at Tonawanda Coke. If you are a member of another organization, church group or businesses and would like to send an organizational letter of support, please email Emily@CACWny.org
  • Tesla: Support our campaign to hold Tesla accountable for racism and sexual harassment. Sign our petition
  • American  Axle: Learn more about our campaign to fully remediate the former American Axle site in Delevan Grider. 
  • Huntley & Tonawanda Tomorrow: Join our team to help reimagine Tonawanda! Email Emily@Cacwny.org 
  • Battaglia: Support our campaign to form a land trust on the former Battaglia site in Seneca Babcock. Sign our petition. 

 

For more information, email info@cacwny.org or call 716-852-3813. 

 

In love and Solidarity, 

 

The Clean Air Staff and Member Leaders



How to Take Action Today

As we mourn the life of George Floyd, we are in solidarity with those in the streets in Minneapolis and Louisville, and with the Black liberation movement that is working to destroy white supremacy, and free us all.

Monday night, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police. On Wednesday, Tony McDade, a trans man, was murdered by Tallahassee police. These brutal killings follow the murder of Breonna Taylor, who was in bed when Louisville police barged into her home in the middle of the night and shot her eight times, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while going for a run in a Georgia suburb, the heinous actions of Amy Cooper in Central Park and centuries of police abuse and violence targeted against Black and communities of color.

We are living in a moment of very visible state violence.

The work Clean Air teams are doing to hold corporations and polluters accountable and the fight against racist violence and police murders are deeply connected: each is a branch from a larger tree rooted in our society and America that is being exposed.

We are doing this work to change the conditions that make Black communities more vulnerable to COVID, that leave poor and working class white communities and communities of color exposed to pollution and hazardous waste, that keep people of color and women from advancing in the workplace, and that systemically enable police officers and racist citizens to take Black lives.

We are doing our part in exposing a larger, glaring problem that needs to be addressed. Our organizing is coming right on time.

Here are actions you can take today:

1) Take action requested by Black organizers on the front lines in Minneapolis:

2) Support Black and Brown organizing in Buffalo, NY. Make a donation to Black Love Resists in the Rust, the only intentional space for Black and Brown folks in Buffalo working to minimize and reduce the harm caused by the Buffalo Police.

3) If you are a white person who wants to do something now, read and share 5 Ways White People Can Take Action in Response to White and State Sanctioned Violence. Share it and encourage a friend, family member or organization to take action with you.

We know those in power rely on keeping those of us silent, and separated from movements for justice. If you’ve never taken action, now’s a great time to start. And if you’re already deep in the work, now is the time to bring new people into our movement.

With Love and Solidarity,

Clean Air Staff: Rebecca, Linnea, Emily and Julia
Co-Authored by Marcus Thompson, Clean Air member


Member Handbook

Download (PDF, 1.76MB)

We are excited to share with you Clean Air’s Member Handbook! At Clean Air, we recognize that developing the leadership of our people is key to transforming individual resources into the collective power necessary to build the world we need and want to live in. While we fight like hell for justice, we also foster a loving community that takes the time to appreciate, recognize and celebrate our people. Join us today by becoming a member: https://www.cacwny.org/become-a-member/



NYS Attorney General Sues EPA Over Suspension of Environmental Enforcement

This afternoon New York Attorney General James, with a coalition of nine attorney generals, filed a lawsuit against Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging its new policy to stop enforcing requirements under a wide range of federal environmental laws due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.The lawsuit, which was filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, includes the attorneys general of California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia, and Vermont.

This lawsuit comes shortly after a letter was sent to the NYSAG from over 50 environmental, labor and community organizations, who urged for legal action after foundational environmental laws were suspended in March. 

“We are grateful for this courageous and necessary action taken by NYS AG James to protect the health of New Yorkers” said Rebecca Newberry, Executive Director of Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.There are over 350 regulated facilities in Western New York alone.  There are thousands of people who live next to large polluters who rely on EPA enforcement to protect our health.”

The EPA’s policy states that the federal government does not intend to take enforcement action against companies that violate provisions of environmental laws such as the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Water Acts, provided that the companies link COVID-19 to their non-compliance. The lawsuit argues that this policy is overly broad, lacks transparency and accountability, and will result in higher pollution emissions by industry and corresponding negative impacts on public health and the environment.

“We’re grateful that AG James is once again standing up to Trump and defending New Yorkers. This sends a clear message to the White House and to polluters that using a public health crisis as an opportunity to poison our environment and communities will not be tolerated, Jonathan Bix, Executive Director of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson

Suspending federal laws that are put in place to protect public health will put more New Yorker’s lives at risk. A recent study of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found Coronavirus patients in areas that had high levels of air pollution before the pandemic are more likely to die from the infection than patients in less polluted parts of the country. Further emissions from polluters in communities will exacerbate an already untenable public health problem in neighborhoods throughout the state. 

Attorney General James has shown that New Yorkers will not stand for the Trump administration’s callous disregard for the health and dignity of our communities. This is a historic day for all environmental justice communities throughout the nation who have long dealt with abuse, neglect and harm caused by corporations who put their profit lines over public health.  Attorney General James and her coalition of states who have joined this landmark lawsuit have defended the lives of thousands of poor and working class people during the COVID-19 crisis and should be applauded for their bravery and swift action,” said Emily Terrana, Organizer, Clean Air Coalition.



May 28th! An Open House to Root our Power

Stronger Together! An Open House to Root our Power

Thursday, May 28th

5pm-7pm

Help us grow… Join our movement! We are continuing to create a virtual home, community, and sense of belonging for our people. That includes you! “Growing Strong Together: An Open House to Root our Power” is going virtual! Clean Air is excited to invite you to our first ever open house!

This is a kid and family friendly event! Download Clean Air’s coloring book for some fun at home. We would love to see the completed works of art at the end of the event!

We hope that you’ll join us (and invite a friend!) to learn about Clean Air’s work & celebrate community.

 

 

Register Here!

 



Celebrating 50 Years & the Party Crashers

How about some good news? For those of a certain vintage, you may remember the 1960’s and; 1970’s suffocating L.A. smog, the Buffalo River fires, “dead” Lake Dreary (Erie), acid rain and the depleted ozone layer. DDT and other chemical fiascos did their damage. Young’uns will have to Google this.

Millions of people, both political parties working across the aisle, and President Nixon (not kidding) took their outrage to amazing legislative levels. Earth Day and the EPA were both born in 1970. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act followed in short order. Generally, the air, water, and the environment at large have improved. This paved the way for a new awareness concerning many environmental issues, including recycling, farm to table platforms, plant, animal, nature preservation, and campaigns to fight for environmental justice.

But complacency can be very deadly and dangerous. Take for instance the EPA. The current Administration has stacked the EPA leadership with people from the gas/oil/chemical industries and major corporations. Lower fuel standards, mercury emissions, oil exploitation, and the degradation of nature, in general, have become the attempted norm. Oil and gas companies, mines, lumbering, and ranching interest are nipping away at the protection of our national treasures. All of the natural world is at risk.

And there’s the absurdity of climate-denying.

As of late, the Trump Administration called for a drastic rollback of the EPA’s ability to enforce existing rules and regulations. The EPA will rely on businesses and industries to self-report any abuses. Fines will not be collected resulting in little or no consequences for any violators. During the past 3 years, various environmental groups have filed hundreds of challenges and lawsuits charging Trump’s EPA with failing to perform its legal obligation to protect American’s health, safety, and well-being.

With the current pandemic threatening the health and lives of every American, this hostile takeover of the EPA will undoubtedly lead to more premature deaths and result in the further degradation of our quality of life. COVID-19 has exposed the open wounds of the inequalities systemic in the

US. This move (and many others) by Trump is the antithesis of any semblance of social justice. The Clean Air Coalition calls upon NYS Attorney General, Letitia James, in concert with other states AGs, to sue the Trumps EPA for its criminal and unethical use of the EPA. We’ll work with Basil Seggos, DEC’s Commissioner, all of our political leaders, the multitude of environmental organizations and groups who daily fight for a just and equitable society to reestablish the EPA as a valuable government entity that fulfills the very essence of its name. All citizens are called to join the battle. Let’s make this 50th Anniversary of the EPA and Earth Day mean something.

Gary M. Schulenberg
Clean Air Coalition- Campaign Leader



Over 50 organization’s call on New York Attorney General to Sue Trump Administration Over Dangerous Suspension of Environmental Enforcement

On March 26th, the USEPA released a policy that set new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak. The memo goes on to state the EPA will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements. The policy cites the decision as a response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  EPA’s decision prompted an immediate rebuke from former agency officials and environmentalists, many of whom characterized it as a waiver of the nation’s environmental rules.

Today, over 50 environmental, labor, and community organizations from across the state of New York responded in a letter addressed to New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The letter states “We the undersigned, urge you to sue the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to the recent memo, COVID-19 Implications for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program, which suspends the enforcement of foundational environmental protection laws.  In issuing this policy, which suspends the enforcement of these laws, the EPA is breaching its public duty and puts New Yorkers public health at risk.”

Over the past 2 years, Attorney General James has taken hundreds of legal actions against the Trump Administration to protect the health, safety and rights of New Yorkers. James’s office sued the Trump administration over 20 times in 2019 to defend residents against dangerous policies. She was the lead plaintiff on 15 of those cases, covering everything from emission standards to healthy school lunches. For example, on April 14th NYSAG James sued the US Department of Labor over unlawful regulations restricting paid sick leave and exposing workers, their families, and their communities to unnecessary spread of COVID-19. 

Yesterday, the NYSAG’s office sent a letter to the Trump Administration denouncing the policy. However given the seriousness of the policy, and it’s dangerous impact on New Yorkers, advocates are urging for a stronger and more robust legal response. 

Suspending federal laws that are put in place to protect public health will put more New Yorker’s lives at risk. A recent study of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found Coronavirus patients in areas that had high levels of air pollution before the pandemic are more likely to die from the infection than patients in cleaner parts of the country. New Yorkers currently make up 33% of COVID-19 cases and 44% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Further emissions from polluters in communities will exacerbate an already untenable public health problem in neighborhoods throughout the state.

Under this order, more people will be harmed. There are over 350 regulated facilities in Western New York alone.  There are thousands of people who live next to large polluters. To make our people ward off COVID-19 while burdening their bodies with more pollution is shameful, horrific, and further demonstrates that the Trump Administration would rather see communities of color and poor and working class people die, than hurt the pocketbooks of his friends.” said Rebecca Newberry, Executive Director of Clean Air Coalition in Buffalo.

Rochester is a predominantly of-color and working class city in which residents have had their health and safety routinely jeopardized by corporations. Rochester Gas & Electric charges residents extortionate rates to guarantee its shareholders a 9% return on investment. Meanwhile, the utility dangerously neglects maintenance of gas pipes and electrical lines critical to public safety. We have brownfields that forgo the safest clean-up procedures so that developers can build luxury apartments for maximum profit while putting residents at risk of poisoning. We also share Lake Ontario with a nuclear power plant, so our city’s safety requires careful management of nuclear waste. Our community cannot afford less accountability for corporations. We cannot afford the EPA further endangering livelihoods at a time when our communities are already struggling through a pandemic. It is the EPA’s duty to protect public health over corporate profits, and we must hold the agency accountable for renouncing that duty.” said Mohini Sharma, Lead Organizer at Metro Justice in Rochester.

In order to operate a large industrial facility, companies must acquire permits to pollute. The limits on how much pollution a company is allowed to put into the air, water and soil, how often a company reports what they pollute, and how they measure the level of toxins are all set by the federal government. Companies self report to the enforcement agencies, and if emitting above the limit or if testing protocol isn’t consistent with regulation, or if there is a spill or accidental air release, they can be found in violation of the law, forced to make changes and/or pay fines. Reporting allows for the federal and state government, as well as community groups, to take swift action when necessary.

From PCBs in the Hudson River, to the poisoning of Newburgh’s water, Hudson Valley residents have been under constant attack from polluters. Using a public health crisis to justify setting the stage for more public health crises is ridiculous. We need environmental enforcement to keep us safe. And we need our AG to once again stand up to Trump and defend New Yorkers.” Jonathan Bix, Executive Director of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson

Download (PDF, 67KB)



Join Us Tuesday Night to Stop Cuts to EPA Enforcement

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a dramatic relaxing of environmental rules, citing the decision as a response to the COVID pandemic. The agency will now allow power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution. This announcement came on the same day that President Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package that provides $500 billion in corporate bailouts; continuing this administration’s efforts to support corporations over communities. According to the memo, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the EPA agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.

Thursday’s edition of The Buffalo News, reported that ..”the EPA’s decision prompted an immediate rebuke from former agency officials and environmentalists, many of whom characterized it as a waiver of the nation’s environmental rules.” Read the full story in The Buffalo News.

Clean Air is calling on New York Attorney General Letitia James to intervene on the public’s behalf and respond to the Trump Administration.

Want to Take Action on these Cuts To Enforcement?

Join Our Zoom Call on Tuesday, April 7th at 5:30pm.

We will be joined by Judith Enck, former Regional Administrator of Region 2 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To discuss this memo and its impacts to our community.

To sign up for the call, register here.