10.18.18

SCHUMER DEMANDS TONAWANDA COKE MAKE FINAL, COURT-ORDERED $2 MILLION COMMUNITY SERVICE PAYMENT AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE; SENATOR SAYS COMPANY HAS OBLIGATION TO HELP ASSESS AND CLEAN UP THE MASSIVE MESS IT MADE IN WESTERN NEW YORK

Tonawanda Coke’s Court-Ordered, $12 Million Community Service Payment Is Important For The Future Health And Economic Development Of the Community; Researchers Are Gathering Information About Health Impacts And Soil Contamination Around The Site

After Filing For Bankruptcy, Tonawanda Coke Recently Signaled Their Intention To Not Make Their Final, $2 Million Community Service Payment; Schumer Today Told Tonawanda Coke That This Payment Must Be Made

Schumer To Tonawanda Coke: After Years Of Shirking Responsibility For Public Health, The Least Tonawanda Coke Can Do Is Keep The Legally-Required Commitment To Assess Impacts of Its Pollution; For Breaking the Law And Harming The Health And Well-Being Of WNY’ers, This Payment Must Be Made At Once 

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer today called on the Tonawanda Coke Corporation to make their final, court-ordered community service payment of $2 million with all due haste. Schumer explained that recently, Tonawanda Coke shut down the plant in Tonawanda and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Schumer said that Tonawanda Coke’s obligation to make court-ordered community service payments resulted from violations of federal law, and that the payments are necessary to fund the completion of studies to understand how air pollution, including emissions from Tonawanda Coke, has impacted the surrounding community. Schumer said that the company has polluted the community’s air and soil in Western New York for decades – in violation of the law – and that the payments should be paid as planned and ordered by the federal court.

“After years of shirking their responsibility to the community, excessively polluting Western New York and negatively impacting the health and well-being of its residents, Tonawanda Coke refusing to pay their court-ordered community service payment is flatly unacceptable,” said Senator Schumer. “For decades, Tonawanda Coke broke the law and polluted our air and soil, risking the health of Western New York residents. Now they want to walk away from two important community service projects, which are crucial to the future health of residents, and understanding the ongoing risks of this legacy pollution. Simply put, Tonawanda Coke has a legal responsibility based on a criminal activity, as well as an obligation to this community that has served it so well for so many years to help clean up the mess it has made, and I expect the company to live up to that responsibility. I urge Tonawanda Coke to make the final $2 million community service payment with all due haste, and I will be watching like a hawk to make sure they do and that all the relevant federal authorities are doing everything in their power to facilitate it.”

Schumer said that in 2014, pursuant to prosecution for violation of federal environmental law, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York (Court) sentenced Tonawanda Coke to probation for five years and levied a criminal fine for their environmental violations of federal environmental law. Specifically, Tonawanda Coke was responsible for releasing large amounts of the toxic chemical benzene into the air each year, while also dumping additional hazardous waste out in the open. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-term exposure to benzene causes harmful effects on the body and immune system. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia. Schumer said that residents of the Town of Tonawanda and the surrounding areas have reported health problems due to exposure to the toxic emissions. Serious diseases such as fibromyalgia and many types of cancer occur at irregular and elevated high rates in the community, and residents frequently report headaches, allergies, and asthma.  

“When you break the law, you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of your sentence you serve just because your last name is ‘corporation.’ You do the crime, you do the time – and you pay the fine. It is as simple as that,” said Senator Schumer.

Schumer explained that in addition to $12 million in fines, as part of Tonawanda Coke’s probationary sentence, the Court also ordered the company to fund two community service projects totaling $12.2 million. The payments were intended to fund a ten-year University at Buffalo epidemiological study regarding the health impacts of Tonawanda Coke’s actions, as well as soil-testing in the vicinity of the plant. Schumer said that the $11.4 million University at Buffalo study recently began enrolling participants, and is not yet complete. Researchers aim to understand how airborne pollutants, including emissions from the Tonawanda Coke facility, have impacted public health in the surrounding communities. Schumer said this information will help inform future decision-making about community health initiatives. Soil-testing is also ongoing and involves collecting and analyzing hundreds of soil samples to determine how much pollution has entered the soil in surrounding communities, and where. Schumer said this information may also be helpful to community leaders as they try to redevelop the site.

Schumer explained that Tonawanda Coke has indicated that it does not intend to make its final community service payment of $2,037,291. In fact, according to Schumer, the company sought – but was denied by the Court – relief from this payment. The Court, via Judge Skretny, spoke clearly on the matter, saying: “This court finds no cause for reconsideration. Tonawanda Coke’s final community service payment therefore remains due… as of Oct. 12, 2018, and it remains obligated to provide financial information to the government and the probation office as directed.”

Schumer said that not making the required payment under law would be completely unacceptable and, according to an October 12, 2018 filing form the Court, would constitute a violation of a condition of the company’s probation. Schumer stated in no uncertain terms that Tonawanda Coke must make this final community service payment as soon as possible. Schumer explained that after flouting federal environmental protections designed to keep people safe and exposing the community to toxic emissions, the very least that Tonawanda Coke can do is make this final payment to the community.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to Tonawanda Coke appears below.

Dear Mr. Durkin:

I write to express my serious concern that Tonawanda Coke Corporation does not intend to make its final, court-ordered community service payment of $2 million in the midst of the facility being shut down and the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Tonawanda Coke has polluted the community for decades; the community service payments resulted from violation of federal law and are necessary to fund studies to understand how air pollution, including emissions from Tonawanda Coke, has impacted the community. Tonawanda Coke must live up to its commitments and court-ordered criminal punishment and make the final community service payment as expeditiously as possible.

In March 2014, pursuant to prosecution for violation of federal environmental law, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York (Court) sentenced Tonawanda Coke to probation for five years and a criminal fine for their environmental violations. As part of the probationary sentence, the Court also ordered Tonawanda Coke to fund two community service projects totaling $12.2 million. Those purpose of the community service payments was to fund a ten-year University at Buffalo epidemiological study regarding the health impacts of Tonawanda Coke’s actions – and a soil-testing study. The $11.4 million University at Buffalo study recently began enrolling participants, and aims to understand how airborne pollutants, including emissions from the Tonawanda Coke facility, have impacted public health in the surrounding communities, and to help inform future local decision-making about community health initiatives. The soil testing study, which started in 2017, involves collecting and analyzing hundreds of soil samples to determine how much pollution has entered the soil in surrounding communities, and where.

However, it is my understanding that Tonawanda Coke has indicated that it does not intend to make its final community service payment of $2,037,291, and, in fact, the company sought – but was denied by the Court – relief from this payment. The Court, via Judge Skretny, spoke clearly on the matter, saying: "This court finds no cause for reconsideration. Tonawanda Coke's final community service payment therefore remains due ... as of Oct. 12, 2018, and it remains obligated to provide financial information to the government and the probation office as directed."

Not to make the required payment under law is completely unacceptable and, according to an October 12, 2018 filing from the US District Court for the Western District of New York, would constitute a violation of a condition of the company’s probation. Tonawanda Coke must make this final community service payment as soon as possible. After flouting federal environmental protections designed to keep people safe and exposing the community to toxic emissions, the very least that Tonawanda Coke can do is make this final payment to the community.

Sincerely,

###



Previous Article Next Article