About 150 people piled into the cafeteria of Tarrant Intermediate School to hear the latest information about ABC Coke’s Title V operating permit on Monday evening.
The Jefferson County Department of Health hosted the public meeting in order to inform members of the community about the process in which ABC Coke, a coal processing plant in Tarrant, will be applying for the Title V operating permits.
The permits have a five-year expiration date. “This is a good thing,” explained Heather Ceron, with the Environmental Protection Agency. “That means that every five years they’re going back and looking at the permits and making sure they are in compliance with the Clean Air Act.”
The permits are issued by the Jefferson County Department of Health and subsequently reviewed by the EPA, although this is not the case with every permit, Ceron explained.
“There are 16,000 Title V sources across the nation. There are not enough people in our air permit section to review all of these. So, we target certain ones. … One of the big things we look at is community interest in the permit,” Ceron said to the room full of interested, albeit concerned, citizens.
“From an EPA standpoint, we don’t generally go out to every public information session like this, but if our regional administrator feels like there is a large community group that is interested in something, we need to be there to help support our counterpart, the JCDH, and explain what the EPA’s role is,” Ceron said.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the meeting, considering that it was hardly more than an opportunity to lay out the process in which permits are applied for, was the impressive turnout of concerned citizens.
Questions were accepted in written form and the panel explained that they would be answered and mailed back in a document once the questions are reviewed. A more formalized public hearing will be held in two weeks at the Jefferson County Department of Health. However, people were visibly frustrated with the way the meeting went on Monday.
“As far as the meeting, it was pretty dry,” Michael Hansen, the communication specialist for GASP, a nonprofit organization focused on clean air for Alabama, said.
“Basically it was just them explaining what a Title V permit is and the process,” Hansen said. “We were hoping for more of a dialogue, but the Health Department brought pens and paper for people to submit questions.”
GASP recently launched a pollution hotline for people to call and report any complaints. Hansen explained that the Health Department had previously said no one had called and complained about the ABC Coke plant. However, ABC Coke, which is part of Drummond Company, was listed last year as one of the potentially responsible parties for the contamination of North Birmingham, according to an EPA letter sent to the company.
“People may not know how to go about commenting, or even that they can. So with our hotline we want to help people submit comments. It’s a way to get people involved and informed,” Hansen said.
Jason Howanitz, a spokesperson for the JCDH, stated that ABC Coke has voluntarily taken measures to reduce their pollution output. “Any reduction, in my mind, is a good reduction,” Howanitz said.
“ABC is currently in compliance with all rules and regulations,” he added. “That’s my job to determine that, and I determine that. I do that very frequently and so I have no problem with that statement.”
Over a three-month period, Howanitz explained, the EPA and JCDH set up an air monitoring station at the elementary school in Tarrant. According to him, there was no evidence of dangerous air pollutants coming from the plant.
“That three-month study came back and said that it was acceptable and that no further monitoring was required,” Howanitz said. “The only way you can get an actual risk is by monitoring. You can play the number game and all that; the EPA made the assessment and deemed it to be acceptable.”
A copy of the permit may be found here.