Environmentalists gathered outside the Albany County Courthouse New Year's Day to raise awareness about their efforts to stop an Albany County cement plant from burning tires for fuel.
The protest was timed to coincide with the Albany County Legislature's swearing-in ceremony. The LaFarge plant in the Village of Ravena near the Greene County border has been a target for environmentalists for years.
Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, a regular WAMC Roundtable panelist, says the cement plant has permission from the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation to start burning, but a local clean air law passed in 2019 in Coeymans has prevented that --- till now. "The incoming town supervisor was quoted in local media saying he does not recognize the validity of the local law. So he's not going to repeal it. He's just not going to enforce it. So that's a de facto repeal."
"We've never said that we would not enforce the Clean Air law. What I did say was that the Clean Air law is unenforceable at the local level. We do not have the expertise or the instruments to perform the air monitoring that is necessary to enforce that law." That’s Coeymans Town Supervisor George McHugh.
Enck warns tire burning at LaFarge would threaten not only air quality, but pollute the drinking water supply for the city of Albany, the Alcove Reservoir in Westerlo.
Enck and the activists are calling on Democratic Albany County Executive Dan McCoy to issue a moratorium on burning tires while county legislators hammer out Local Law I, a Clean Air Law, tabled at their last meeting of 2019. "Well in late December when the county legislature failed to pass the county clean air law, they sent a really important letter to the county executive McCoy and asked him to establish an executive order that created a four-year moratorium on tire burning in Albany County. That was a wonderful letter that we hope the county executive will follow, because it will give the legislature just a little bit of time to get final amendments done on the Clean Air Act and protect all of our lungs."
McHugh fired back. "Frankly, in my personal opinion, I don't believe the county has the expertise either to enforce that law."
In December22 legislators sent a message to the county executive asking him for a six-month moratorium on tire incineration while they revise the law.
McCoy's office declined to comment.