Groups Ask Ivey to Push for New State Environmental Leaders

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By Virginia Martin

Environmental groups have asked Gov. Kay Ivey to take steps to remove from office state environmental officials who were implicated during the recent bribery trial over a plan to block the expansion of a Superfund toxic waste site in Tarrant and Inglenook.

The groups said in a letter to Ivey that information learned during the trial and elsewhere “demonstrates bias, unequal access, and a culture in which influence, money, and personal relationships matter more than public health.”

Drummond Company Vice President for Government Affairs David Roberson, and Joel Gilbert, an attorney for Balch and Bingham, were found guilty on six counts each in connection with the scheme. Former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson pleaded guilty and testified about the plan during the trial. He was accused of accepting bribes in the form of money given to a charitable foundation he controlled in return for using his influence to oppose the EPA’s plans to accelerate cleanup of the site.

The EPA had wanted to place the expanded site on its National Priorities List. That site includes areas around ABC Coke, which is operated by Drummond and could have been held responsible for cleanup costs.

Robinson asked the Alabama Environmental Management Commission to intervene in north Birmingham cleanup efforts, according to testimony. His argument, provided by Balch and Bingham, was that the superfund designation would destroy property values by labeling neighborhoods a toxic waste dump.

Testimony also showed that several AEMC members got information ahead of their deliberations on the issue from groups opposing expansion of the cleanup, then themselves spoke in opposition. Testimony also showed Alabama Department of Environmental Management Director Lance LeFleur opposed the cleanup after being pressured by businesses and lobbyists associated with the property.

That was just one of the complaints listed by environmentalists who last month called for Ivey to push for action against LeFleur. Ivey responded that she did not appoint the director of ADEM. She does appoint members to the AEMC, and she has several AEMC appointments coming up later this year, her office stated in its response.

Now environmental groups are urging Ivey “to ask for the resignation of any Commissioners who participated in the actions brought forth during the trial, and any Commissioner who believes there is nothing wrong with these actions,” according to a press release from the groups. “Further, the organizations ask the governor to address the perpetuated biased and unfair culture that has failed the people of Alabama by appointing Commissioners who will be committed to the ideals of transparency and equal access, and direct the EMC to better serve the public interest moving forward.”

The Alabama Rivers Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba River Society, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Friends of Hurricane Creek/Hurricane Creekkeeper, Friends of the Locust Fork River, Gasp and Tennessee Riverkeeper jointly sent the letter to Ivey.

“In addition to holding accountable those who may have acted inappropriately, we urge you to direct the Commissioners who believe they have not been a party to conflicts of interest or biased behavior to draft and pass a resolution stating that this culture of allowing undue influence by the regulated industries is inconsistent with the values and purpose of the Commission – and will stop,” the letter to Ivey states.

 

Note: The Cahaba Riverkeeper is a sponsor of WBHM programming, but the station’s news and business departments operate independently.

 

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