Weekly Feature

2018-10-10 / Front Page

Tonawanda Coke’s DEC hearing delayed 48 hours

Attorneys on both sides agree to reconvene on conference call

The state Department of Environmental Conservation hearing requested by the Tonawanda Coke Corporation concerning environmental violations, scheduled for 10 a.m. today, has been adjourned until Friday morning, a move that was a disappointing result for the activists and residents and who attended.

The hearing has been moved to 10 a.m. Friday, and will be conducted on a conference call, out of public earshot. Attorneys from both the DEC and Tonawanda Coke agreed to the format, which will begin with a discussion of the status of settlement discussions, according to the administrative law judge who presided over Wednesday’s hearing.

Rebecca Newberry, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition, called the behavior by Tonawanda Coke’s attorneys “par for the course” for the corporation, and a disservice to the residents who put their lives on hold to attend the hearing.

“We’re really seeing this as a blueprint for injustice in our society,” she said, during a media scrum that followed the hearing. “The continual passing on, and the continual extension, is just an example of how our criminal justice system does not work for regular working class people and people of color in our society. This is just another example of how corporations are privileged in the criminal justice system, while regular working people have to bear the brunt of their decisions.”

She made a similar comment concerning the behavior of the DEC’s attorneys, calling it a typical action when it comes to hearings concerning environmental crimes and violations.

“We’re actually not very surprised about that,” Newberry said. “Whether or not that is right is a whole other story.”

The Bee reached out to Tonawanda Coke spokesman A.J. Verel for comment on the request of the corporation’s attorneys to adjourn the hearing and reconvene on a conference call, but has not yet received a response.

Jackie James-Creedon, director of community group Citizen Science Community Resources, called this morning’s decision in line with a pattern of behavior the company has exhibited in the last 15 years, noting that Tonawanda Coke refused to meet with residents at the outset to talk about benzene emissions.

“All we asked as a community was, ‘Please meet with us, we need this benzene reduced.’ They wouldn’t meet with the community, so it’s one thing after another after another,” she said. “If you live in a community as an industry, you need to work with the community. This company does not work with the community, period.”

Nonetheless, James-Creedon said she was cautiously optimistic about the outcome of Friday’s hearing, expecting to get an announcement from the DEC following those proceedings that favors residents.

“We’d like to see [Tonawanda Coke] shut down and we feel like we’re close now, more than ever,” she said. “We won our battle once against this company, and their pollution was dramatically reduced.”

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