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.



Stand Up to Trump’s Dangerous EPA Enforcement Cuts

Clean Air Coalition Calls on New York Attorney General to Stand Up to Trump’s Dangerous EPA Enforcement Cuts

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 comes 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.

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, they can be found in violation of the law, forced to make changes and/or pay fines. 

EPA reporting guidelines are vital for the health, safety and dignity of our communities and the environment. Reporting allows for the federal and state government, as well as community groups, to take swift action when necessary to remedy toxic emissions and accidents at factories, power plants and other industrial facilities regulated by environmental protection laws.

While this memo does not apply to companies already engaged in criminal action or the Superfund and RCRA corrective action programs, it will have a dramatic impact on the amount of pollution that companies will dump into our communities’ air, water and soil.

The order states that companies should self report if they break the law, but won’t face any consequences by doing so.  The memo states “In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request.”

The memo also relaxes the requirements for companies that have entered into a settlement agreement or consent orders. Settlement agreements and consent orders are entered into if a company has already violated the law, and is either paying a fine or taking steps to correct the action. These corrections come with strict timelines and clear objectives. By removing penalties the EPA is removing any incentive for companies to clean up their act. 

Under this order, more people will die. Our membership is made up of people who live next to large polluters. With this order, the EPA will no longer use their full authority to hold polluters in check. 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 poor and working class people die, than hurt the pocketbooks of his friends.” Rebecca Newberry, Clean Air Executive Director. 

It has been proven time and time again that when polluters do not have strict monitoring, reporting and enforcement standards, our communities suffer. According to the Toxic Release Inventory, there are well over 350 facilities in Western New York that are regulated under federal laws.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement actions have been vital to hold polluters accountable. Since the EPA’s enforcement actions in Tonawanda, there was a 92% reduction in the carcinogen benzene in the ambient air.

In the Seneca Babcock neighborhood in the City of Buffalo, the EPA partnered with the NYDEC to inspect and issue multiple Notices of Violation to Battaglia Demolition, a company that was operating with no permit and blanketing the community with silica dust, a known human carcinogen. This enforcement action was vital to initiate a New York State investigation, legal action, and the ultimate shutdown of the facility in 2017.

Clean Air is calling on New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, to respond to the EPA’s order. 

“It is the government’s job to protect us. The federal government is refusing to enforce the law that keeps polluters in check. Attorney General James has led efforts to protect New Yorkers from the Trump administration in the past. We encourage her leadership again now.” Jennifer Carman, Clean Air Coalition Board President. 



Clean Air’s Response to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic

March 19th, 2020

Dear Clean Air Members,

From all of us in the Clean Air Coalition of WNY family, we hope that you and your families are doing well and staying safe during these very chaotic and troubling times.

As we watch how this pandemic is affecting our brothers, sisters and siblings here in Western New York and around the globe, our hearts ache and our anxieties are high. We are all worried for our elders, our immunocompromised and housing insecure people, and those feelings of anxiety are real and valid. We at Clean Air know so well what it is to care for one another and demand action from governmental officials and other institutions when our health, dignity and safety are on the line. This unprecedented time in our collective history is no different.

This crisis is laying bare the cracks in the systems and institutions that are supposed to care for us and keep us safe. Our people, poor and working-class people, Black and Brown people, queer and trans people, women—we have experienced these cracks for generations and we have the tools to lead in this moment of crisis. At Clean Air, we value resident knowledge, grassroots power and race and class equity and inclusion. The question now is, how are we going to show up and continue our work to prove that our values are the only way forward?

The real and urgent needs of our people are a no-brainer—comprehensive health care, access to clean water and nourishing food, paid sick leave to care for ourselves and our families and the security of knowing we won’t lose our homes and utilities. These needs are basic human rights and the fact that we have to demand them in this time of crisis shows how the system does not work for our people.

It is clear, now more than ever, that when our governmental officials and institutions put private profit over the health, dignity and safety of our communities, it is our people who suffer most. When billionaires are given millions of dollars of our public money to create racist and sexist, hostile work environments like Tesla, when developers like Jon Williams are paid out by the State when our people have been poisoned for generations in Buffalo’s Delevan-Grider neighborhood and Tonawanda, when residents in the Seneca-Babcock have to fight tooth and nail for clean air and when all of communities fear for their lives and wellbeing during this Covid- 19 pandemic, something isn’t right.

Our anger is righteous, and we will continue to do what we do best—organize our people for health and justice. During this time of uncertainty, PCBs will not stop leaking into our backyards, silica dust will not stop flying around our streets, Tesla will not stop their racist and sexist practices and millionaires and billionaires will not stop getting paid to “clean up” toxic sites like Tonawanda Coke. We at Clean Air will continue the work of holding those who make us sick and profit off of our suffering accountable and we will organize for a world where the health and wellbeing of our people is centered. Our mission is to build a world where our environment promotes health and equity and where systems place communities at the forefront of decision making. Now is the time for us all to boldly and unapologetically live into our mission and values and take action to demand justice.

The staff and campaign teams at Clean Air will continue to do our work as this pandemic progresses. While this won’t look exactly like business as usual, we are shifting and adapting to the changing landscape. As of Tuesday, March 17th, our staff and members have been working from home and have suspended all in-person meetings for as long as we need to keep one another safe and healthy. All of our campaign teams and staff are now working remotely. Our office line is still open (716-852-3813) and we will be checking our voicemails regularly.

We are resilient and strong, and we will continue organizing.

Clean Air’s event, Growing Strong Together: An Open House to Root our Power, has been postponed. Although we cannot meet in person, the power of our membership is palpable and we will continue to root that power to support one another. Now is the time where the brilliance and resiliency of our people truly shine and we are confident that we will be able to continue on our vital work during these chaotic times. We know how precious the health and dignity of our communities are, and if you need direct support or are looking for resources on how to set up mutual-aid networks within your communities, please reach out to us! Our communities have power and we are each leaders within them for health and justice. Now is the time for us to show up, live out our values, support one another and build a bold vision for the world we all deserve.

When everything in the world seems uncertain, you can be sure that our hard work will continue. At Clean Air, when we control where our money comes from, we control what our work is. Moments like this prove that our grassroots fundraising strategies are vital in times of crisis when we all need to pivot to care for our communities. Times are tough, but we are stronger together.

But we also need to be honest… just as our organizing is shifting and adapting, our fundraising is too. We, like others, need your support right now… not just to weather the pandemic, but to come out of it stronger, more resilient, and more ready than ever to collectively create the world we know we need.

Can you join us in the work of caring for our communities and demanding health and justice by donating $5, $10, or $15 per month?

In the coming weeks, expect to hear from us, because that’s what we do. Expect emails, phone calls, web-based trainings and get-togethers,  social media posts, and updates on our website blog. We aren’t going anywhere. We are here for our people and our community, and we are continuing to organize. We urge you to call us or email us whenever. We want to hear from you.

We will get through this crisis because our people are strong, resilient, creative and powerful. We will get through this crisis because we have one another.

With all of our love and solidarity,

Clean Air Staff
Rebecca Newberry, Linnea Brett, Julia White and Emily Terrana



The Unhumorous DEC (or “Are you kidding?”)

 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos have been in the news a lot regarding their role with the Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) for Tonawanda Coke. In a Letter to the Editor, various media outlets, and a DEC sponsored interview video, they’ve pressed their case in support of tax credits for the site. Let’s look at some of the points they’ve made.

 

  • I’ve always been bad at math but… The DEC maintains it has a robust brownfields tax credit program and the experience to handle a cleanup of magnitude like Tonawanda Coke. The average size for sites in the brownfield program is 3-5 acres. The approved brownfield portion of the Tonawanda Coke site is 86 acres. I’ll let a third grader figure out how many times larger Tonawanda Coke is compared to the typical site.

 

  • Math & Ratios… The DEC states the average time for completing remediation is 2.7 years for the typical candidate in the brownfield program. Jon Williams, the new owner of Tonawanda Coke, is on record saying his new property can be done in 4 years. Hum… 2.7 years for 3-5 acres v. 4 years for 86 acres? Kids, help us understand!

 

  • No Public Hearing … Public hearings are one of the purported aspects for outreach by the DEC. Does anyone remember when the DEC sponsored public hearings concerning the brownfield application for either Tonawanda Coke or the Huntley Power Plant? No, we don’t recall that happening either. In fact, when the community requested a hearing, the DEC refused.

 

  • False equivalency… The DEC, on occasion, conflates the brownfield program and the New York State Superfund program. They fail to communicate that New York State taxpayers reimburse developers for portions of the cleanup under the brownfield program, while the liable party, in this case, Honeywell Corporation, would of payed under New York State Superfund.

 

The above are only a few of the reasons why Clean Air is in opposition to the Brownfield program for Tonawanda Coke. We will continue the struggle to make sure the residents of the Town of Tonawanda and taxpayers have a just and safe community.

 

By Gary Schulenberg, Clean Air member



Welcome Aboard Emily!

We are excited to announce a new addition to our team! Emily Terrana has joined us as our Leadership Development Director and Environmental Justice Organizer.

A member of Clean Air since 2015, Emily has served in leadership roles throughout our organization, including as a member of the Tonawanda Coke Campaign Team. Emily brings with her over ten years of organizing and training experience on local, state and federal campaigns on issues of immigration, Paid Family Leave, LGBTQ justice, reproductive health, housing and climate justice.

Emily formerly worked as the Director of Organizing at PUSH Buffalo and as the Western Regional Organizer with the New York American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Emily has tremendous experience in political education, strategy and storytelling, having built and facilitated training programs with local, state, national and international comrades. She believes deeply in a rigorous, disciplined and care centered organizing practice that builds our communities’ power to live in a just, dignified and joyful world we all deserve. Emily grew up in Buffalo’s Riverside neighborhood, is a proud Mama of three, and lover of grease-cup pepperoni and Paula’s Donuts. Emily holds a degree in Women and Gender Studies from Buffalo State College and has been published in Selves, Symbols, and Sexualities: An Interactionist Anthology. We’re thrilled to have her join our team!



$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.

Download (PDF, 35KB)



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.



Annual Member Meeting, March 5th!

What a year it has been at Clean Air! We’ve built power, organized, and won justice throughout Western New York. In the past year, our member’s work resulted in the start of the remediation of contamination in the Delavan Grider community; supported Tesla workers to organize for job security; and held Tonawanda Coke and Battaglia Demolition accountable for their disregard for public health and the environment. Now, it’s time to celebrate another year of exciting victories and developments. Without the investment and work by members — and the belief in the power and possibility of organizing our communities — none of our work in 2019 could have been possible.

We invite you to join us at our Annual Meeting to celebrate these successes and prepare for another year of smart, grassroots organizing. Our membership from across the region will come together to learn from each other, and share their successes and challenges. We will discuss our vision for 2020; to organize to create jobs through projects that strengthen our climate resilience; reclaim and rehabilitate toxic land; and continue to grow a base of power that places communities at the forefront of decision making. We  will also vote to elect our new slate of board members who will guide our organization in the coming year.  

 

Our meeting is open to anyone who wishes to attend, however, only Clean Air members are able to vote on this year’s board of directors (See the slate below). If you are a member and have not received your ballot in the mail, please contact Rebecca at Rebecca@cacwny.org. If you wish to become a member today, you can do so online here.

Clean Air 2020 Slate of Board Candidates

The Board of Directors helps to support the mission of the Clean Air: Organizing for Health and Justice (Clean Air) and the work of its staff and members to make our communities healthier through grassroots organizing. Our board is comprised of individuals from all walks of life who share a commitment to making life better for communities across the region.  All board members serve 3 year terms.

Board members fulfill the following responsibilities:

  • Determine how the organization will carry out its mission through long and short-term planning and evaluation 
  • Adopt an annual budget and provides fiscal oversight
  • Hire and evaluates the performance of the Executive Director
  • Recruit members and fundraise 
  • Decide what campaigns, research projects, and fiscal sponsorships Clean Air engages in
  • Recruit, orient, and develop new board members

 

 

2020 Board Slate

New Board Candidate(the following board candidate is up for their first three year term)

Drew Canfield is a master of urban planning student at the University at Buffalo pursuing an advanced certificate in climate sustainability. She is a two year AmeriCorps VISTA alumna with experience in fundraising, direct action planning, and community engagement. Drew is also a Member of the Board of Directors and a regular volunteer at The Tool Library. Drew currently works as a graduate research assistant I’m the UB Community Resilience Lab and as an intern with the Great Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

Returning Board Candidate (the following board candidate is up for a second three year term)

Sydney Brown is a humble servant of The Most High God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. She is community driven concentrating her efforts on addressing the economic, social and environmental injustices facing the Western New York area with a special emphasis on the East Side of Buffalo. A board member of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Western New York, Sydney is a team player dedicated to improving the economic welfare of her community with a focus on Black enterprises. She is a devoted board member of the Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC) advocating for the restoration of the Humboldt Parkway. Sydney is also a loyal member of Clean Air: Organizing for Health and Justice and is a member of the American Axle Steering Committee, the campaign leadership team dedicated to remediate the contamination in Buffalo’s Delavan Grider neighborhood.



Trivia Night! Saturday February 29th!

Join us at Clean Air’s Trivia Night on Saturday, February 29th!

Get Your Tickets Here! 

Download (PDF, 2.46MB)