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Environmentalists Raise New Clean Air Concerns About LaFarge Cement Plant


Environmentalists are on alert as the LaFarge Cement Plant in Southern Albany County makes a push to burn tires.

LaFarge came under fire from environmentalists back in 2003 when newspaper reports revealed it was releasing large amounts of mercury into the air. It has continued making headlines ever since. Early this year the Town of Coeymans passed a local law aimed at restricting air pollutants.  Mike Ewall with Energy Justice Network says burning tires is dirtier than the coal that the plant currently burns.

"I was hired by the town of Coeymans to write up the Clean Air law, which they, after many hearings and much deliberation passed a year and a half later in March of this year, and that effectively blocks LaFarge from being able to burn trash and tires at the kiln."

"We'll see lots of air pollution from the cement plant if they're allowed to burn tires and solid waste that will affect all of Albany County including the drinking water supply for the city of Albany." ~ Judith Enck

Ewall says a slate of Republicans ran for three of five town board seats in November, ousting three pro-environmental Democrats who voted for the Clean Air Law. He say the trio "massively outspent" the incumbents.   "So now it'll be all Republicans running the town, and we strongly believe that, based on the fact that one of their candidates, McHugh, is a lawyer or was a lawyer for the port of Coeymans, which has a contract to collect millions of tires around the state, that they have an economic interest in modifying this law to allow tire burning at LaFarge. We believe that's a large part of why they were running for an office. And so we're working right now to get the county legislature to pass the same type of clean air law to make sure that there is a backstop, so that this waste incineration in the county can't happen either in Coeymans or anywhere."

Contacted via their "Coeymans Comeback Team" Facebook page, the Republican slate offered this comment:  "We have no plans or intentions of rescinding the clean air law in Coeymans. The democratic incumbents ran their re-election campaigns on this same baseless fear and emotion propaganda, and the election results on November 5th speak for themselves.  the Comeback teams campaign received no support from the Port of Coeymans or LaFarge."

George McHugh did not respond to requests for comment.  

Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, a regular WAMC Roundtable panelist, has reservations.   "The county legislature in Albany County is now considering a county level clean air law, which makes sense, because the air pollution doesn't respect town boundaries. We'll see lots of air pollution from the cement plant if they're allowed to burn tires and solid waste that will affect all of Albany County including the drinking water supply for the city of Albany, the Alcove Reservoir in Westerlo and also residents of Rensselaer County and beyond will be impacted by this air pollution. So the race is on to see if the Albany County legislature acts on their version of a Clean Air Act. It's starting to be considered in committee.”

Enck is hopeful the legislature will act to adopt the measure by the end of this year.   A spokesperson for the panel says Local Law I  is not meant to target any specific project. The winter storm pushed Monday’s scheduled meeting to Thursday night.

The LaFarge plant is located in the Village of Ravena near the Greene County border and is a primary employer there.   LaFargeHolcim did not return calls for comment.  

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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