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Activists Seek County-Wide Clean Air Law In Albany To Counter LaFarge

Environmentalists are doubling down on their efforts to prevent an Albany County cement plant from burning tires for fuel. 

The LaFarge plant in the Village of Ravena near the Greene County border has a target for environmentalists for many years, most recently for its effort to garner approval to burn tires for fuel.

Albany County Legislator Doug Bullock, a Democrat representing the 7th district,  co-sponsored Local Law I, a Clean Air Act, which the legislature had planned to vote on Monday night. Although Local Law I is not meant to target any specific project, it would apply to LaFarge. However, Bullock says the measure has been tabled.    "And it'll be tabled until next year. It's tabled because of a last minute county attorney's report that urged tabling and delaying because technicalities had to be worked out according to the county attorney's office in order to make this local law foolproof and LaFarge would be unable to get legal challenges to it."

Christine Primomo is with the Albany County League of Women Voters, which endorses Local Law I. She says state clean air regulations need strengthening. "The league endorsed a similar law adopted by the town of Coeymans early this year. The League of Women Voters nationally, statewide and locally has adopted advocacy positions on clean air solid waste public health, and the preservation of natural resources for over 50 years of 100 year history. We view clean air as a human right. Facilities burning solid fuels, especially wastes, are among the largest air polluters in any jurisdiction. Waste incinerators rank at the top alongside paper mills, cement kilns, airports and oil refineries when examining EPA air pollution databases. A company can follow state regulations and still be a large air polluter that is unhealthy for the residents."

Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, a regular WAMC Roundtable panelist, warns tire burning at LaFarge would threaten the drinking water supply for the city of Albany, the Alcove Reservoir in Westerlo.    "You know, the reason why the Adirondacks suffered for so long with acid rain was because of pollution from coal plants in Ohio, and Pennsylvania. So these are specific concerns and it's rather astonishing that the Cuomo administration has already rubber stamped tire burning at LaFarge without looking at environmental impacts very closely, such as the impact on drinking water."

Enck says residents of Rensselaer County and beyond will also be impacted by air pollution. Sean Mahar is Chief of Staff at the New York State Department of Conservation: "Any accusation that this agency is rubber stamping anything is plain false. And it's sad that these lies are coming from someone who should know better. On a limited case by case basis DEC allows burning tire derived fuel, but only when and if it meets the state's strict air emissions limits, including toxic emissions through our comprehensive air quality protection regulations. We take our responsibility to protect public health and air quality extremely seriously and only permit activities that meet our rigorous standards."
Lafarge, which did not immediately return a call for comment, has not yet started burning tires. It has permission from state Department of Environmental Conservation to start burning but the local clean air law passed earlier this year in Coeymans has prevented that. Enck fears the law will be overturned by Republicans who ousted three pro-environmental Coeymans Democrats in November's election.  She says   "The Clean Air champions, the town supervisor, the county legislator the town board members, all lost their seats last month.  I fully expect that when the new Coeymans town board is seated in January, that they will gut the local clean air law. They are not going to repeal it, because that would be too obvious, they will very likely advance an amendment to the law similar to what LaFarge has proposed to the Albany County legislature, which exempts tire burning from the law. As if we were you know, born yesterday, and just fell off the turnip truck. Exempting tire burning from a clean air law is really really problematic."

The newly elected town officials have told WAMC they "have no plans or intentions of rescinding the clean air law in Coeymans."

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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