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Local Residents Discuss Coeymans Clean Air Law

Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck speaks to the Coeymans town council
Lucas Willard
Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck speaks to the Coeymans town council

The Albany County town of Coeymans is seeking to pass a clean air law. Residents from nearby communities concerned with emissions from a local cement plant packed a town board meeting Thursday night.

The Coeymans town board is considering a local law that would restrict emissions and monitor for a variety of pollutants.  

The board drafted the legislation with the aid of a consultant from the Energy Justice Network, which recently drafted a similar air pollution measure signed last week in Baltimore, Maryland.

The action came after Coeymans residents in late 2017 got word that the Lafarge cement plant in the village of Ravena was considering using processed municipal waste from Hartford, Connecticut as fuel. The waste would have been processed through a company called Mustang Renewable Power Ventures.

Connecticut decided against sending the waste and Lafarge says there was no plan to accept it.

Former EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, who has advocated for the clean air law, said at Thursday’s meeting that she dug into the issue through a Freedom of Information Law Request filed with the state of Connecticut. She says Lafarge knew about discussions to take processed waste.

“And what I found was a letter drafted six months prior to this debate. It’s dated July 19th [2017]. And it’s from a company called Geocycle to a company called Mustang, the company that was going to bring the waste here. What I learned from this Freedom of Information Request and then doing some online research is that Geocycle is owned by Lafarge,” said Enck.

Shelbee Hundley, regional counsel for LafargeHolcim, the Ravena plant’s parent company, appeared at the meeting to repeat that the company has no plans to import waste.

“Nobody is talking about bringing garbage. Lafarge is talking about tire-derived fuel, which is something they are already permitted by the DEC to do. We haven’t done it yet obviously and we don’t have the equipment yet to do it now, but that is what we are talking about. Nobody is talking about burning garbage,” said Hundley.

The meeting was filled with residents from Coeymans and nearby communities. Opinions were given on both sides of the clean air law debate.

Some feared potential health impacts connected to living downwind from the Lafarge facility.

Michael Harrington, who lives near the Ravena plant, said he’s neither for nor against the proposed law, but has concerns.

“I will tell you that, they start burning garbage, I will move my family. I mean, I sit on my deck and see it. The way I can tell the wind’s blowing is the steam coming out of it. And it’s a little unsettling at times,” said Harrington.

Others dismissed the measure as a poorly-informed political decision. Longtime Coeymans resident Mary Driscoll joined others in deriding the presence of residents from outside the town limits.

“I’m for clean air. I don’t think Lafarge is sitting up there saying ‘let’s poison everybody!’” said Driscoll.

Councilmember James Youmans responded to some of the comments, trying to clarify what is being considered.

“I’m just going to also point out that there’s no law that’s being proposed that says they can’t burn tires, and it doesn’t say they can’t burn garbage for that matter, it says if you’re gonna, what comes out of that stack has to be clean,” said Youmans.

Dismissing some critics that said the clean air law is a knee-jerk reaction, Town Supervisor Phillip Crandall said when the initial public hearing was held on the measure months ago, only four people appeared, all speaking in support of the proposal.

“We could have rammed it through then but I chose not to. I wanted to do more research. I wanted to sit down and talk with Lafarge because they came to us and had concerns. But they came to us and basically wanted to gut our law. And I wasn’t going to let them do that,” said Crandall.

Lafarge had offered revisions to the law. The measure was recently returned from the Albany County Planning Board with no issues.

Crandall, a Democrat, says the issue of money and potential lost tax revenues if Lafarge is impacted, does not concern him if there is potential to sicken town residents. He believes Lafarge will not abandon its Ravena plant.

“They just spent over $300-something million to redo that plant and there’s a limestone pit which produces some of the finest limestone in the world – they use it underwater, for trestles underwater – you can’t get that every place. You think they’re going to give that up? No.”

The clean air law has already become political, with a slate of endorsed Republican candidates opposed to the measure.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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