Posts Tagged ‘Louisiana’

Community and environmental organizations lodged a formal protest against the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources’s recent permit for a coal export terminal in the already polluted Plaquemines Parish corridor.

In a letter sent to LDNR Secretary Stephen Chustz, the organizations called for reconsideration of the coastal use permit granted this month, charging that the RAM coal  terminal would violate laws created to ensure that the state’s plan for coastal restoration plan is carried out.

The letter charged that “because LDNR did not adequately analyze alternative sites, LDNR cannot assess whether there are feasible and praticable alternative locations, methods and practices for use that are in compliance with the modified standard under the Coastal Use Permit regulations.”

The letter also argued that the RAM terminal conflicts with Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for coastal restoration. The terminal “will  severely impact wetlands and the $300 million Myrtle Grove with Dedicated Dredging Ecosystem Restoration Project…,” the letter said. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Residents and environmental activists in Plaquemines Parish, LA, filled the community center auditorium during Wednesday night’s permit hearing for the RAM coal export terminal proposed for the Lower Mississippi River just outside New Orleans.

Local residents turn up to a hearing on a proposed coal export terminal in Belle Chase, Louisiana.  120 strong compared to 12 the previous year.

Local residents turn up to a hearing on a proposed coal export terminal in Belle Chase, Louisiana. 120 strong compared to 12 the previous year.

Plaquemines Parish, a long strip of wetlands and small communities banked by the Mississippi, is already home to much industrial activity, including two coal export terminals, where coal sits in immense uncovered piles. Speakers at the hearing urged Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to deny a coastal use permit for a third coal export terminal for various reasons.

Speakers said the RAM terminal that Missouri-based Armstrong Energy has proposed would add to the coal-dust pollution that already burdens nearby communities, as well as bring train traffic to the area. They said the terminal would undermine state efforts to restore disappearing wetlands by employing the Myrtle Grove Sediment Diversion, a project, still in planning stages, to deposit river sediment in the wetlands.

They said coal exported through the terminal would contribute to climate change, pointing out that low-lying Plaquemines Parish and the entire New Orleans area are particularly vulnerable to the extreme weather and rising sea levels that global warming and climate disruption brings. They also pointed out that the community would be buying into a shaky financial proposition by allowing the coal terminal to be built, since Armstrong Energy is amid deep economic problems.

In response to pressure from Plaquemines residents, officials scheduled a second permit hearing for Thursday at 6 pm in Belle Chasse, Louisiana.

“I am definitely in opposition to this terminal,” said Plaquemines Parish Councilman Burghart Turner, who represents Ironton and Myrtle Grove, communities adjacent to the location proposed for the RAM terminal. “With the IMT (International Marine Terminals coal facility) already just south of the community of Ironton, and with this additional coal facility north of Ironton, we would be choking out that community,” he said, referring to the pollution from coal dust and other industrial sources that burden the area.

“The folks in the Pacific Northwest have already said ‘no’ to these types of coal terminals, because they know the problems they present,” said Devin Martin, an organizer for the Sierra Club who lives nearby in New Orleans. “The coal companies are looking to the Gulf of Mexico because they believe we’ll be an easy target. They believe our political leaders won’t stand up – that they’ll be happy to have a dirty industry in their neighborhood, that communities don’t have the kind of voice to stand up to these kinds of projects. But communities in the area are already overburdened with pollution from coal dust and other industrial activity, and they have spoken up repeatedly that they don’t want any development if they can’t be assured it won’t degrade the air, water and quality of life.”

During the hearing, Martin also presented 600 petitions gathered from Louisiana residents, pointing out that opposition to the RAM terminal is present throughout state.

“The financials for Armstrong Coal, the parent company for the RAM terminal, are extremely shaky,” said Hillary Corgey, a researcher for Public Citizen Texas. According to the company’s prospectus, she said, “Their debt increased from 2010 to 2011 from $139.8 million to $244.8 million, and their revenue plummeted from 2009 to 2011 from $10.4 million to $3.4 million. Armstrong’s bond rating is considered a junk bond. That is from both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.”

In a joint letter submitted to the DNR during the hearing, state and national environmental groups urged the agency to deny the coastal use permit sought by Armstrong because the RAM terminal is in conflict with a state and federal program to build vital wetlands by depositing sediment from the Mississippi River.

The letter noted that the RAM Terminal could undermine the success of the Myrtle Grove Sediment Diversion by “polluting the water going into the wetlands” with coal and petcoke; both contain heavy metals, sulfides, and other toxic constituents that would harm aquatic species and impede the ability of marsh plants to take root in the newly restored wetlands.

The letter was signed by representatives from Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), Gulf Restoration Network, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Public Citizen.

“Our position is that DNR must deny this permit, as it’s inconsistent with the state’s master plan for coastal restoration,” said Scott Eustis, a coastal wetlands specialist for the Gulf Restoration Network.

“The Myrtle Grove Sediment Diversion is a $300 million project, the state’s premier coastal restoration project. There have been years of planning and engineering and there will be at least five to 10 more years of planning. DNR cannot permit a ship terminal in the location where the engineer for the sediment diversion says a barge is inconsistent. DNR has a chance to stand up for coastal restoration. We think that they must.”

Under Louisiana state law, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) must find that the RAM terminal is consistent with the state’s coastal management plan before the DNR approves construction of the facility. The CPRA, which expressed concerns about the terminal’s impact on coastal management in 2012, has not yet altered that opinion to find the terminal consistent.

Read Full Post »

Environmental Groups Applaud EPA Choice

New Regional Administrator could signal change in direction for polluted state

DALLAS – Environmental advocates across several states are applauding the Obama Administration’s choice of Dr. Al Armendariz to lead Region 6 of the Environmental Protection Agency, which includes Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Armendariz, an engineering professor at Southern Methodist University, has worked with diverse constituencies ranging from corporations to citizens groups and has published dozens of studies on myriad environmental issues throughout his career. His appointment garnered high praise from the environmental community.

“Our region has typically provided a haven for some of the worst polluters in the country, and has paid a steep price,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, Texas Director for Public Citizen. “I believe the appointment of Dr. Al Armendariz signifies a new direction for Region 6.”

In an effort to make sure EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and the White House chose a strong environmental leader for Region 6, about twenty prominent advocates signed on to a list of principles that they hoped would guide the appointment. Dr. Armendariz was one of two candidates the groups endorsed for the position. Their list of qualities for an ideal administrator included a commitment to environmental justice and science-based policy, minimal ties to industries regulated by EPA and a strict adherence to the President’s Executive Order on Ethics, which was intended to prevent conflicts of interest between lobbyists and government agencies.

“Al Armendariz demonstrates the kind of vision, integrity and grassroots approach to enforcing environmental law this region needs if we’re truly going to clean up our act,” said Jeffrey Jacoby, Program Director at the Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE). “He embodies the ‘Principles for Environmental Leadership and Real Change’ we believed should guide this appointment.”

Indeed, many within the environmental community see appointment of Armendariz as indicative of a new approach for the regional EPA.

“We are thrilled with Dr. Armendariz’s appointment,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “After eight years of the Bush EPA, it’s a new day for Texas’ environment. Move over polluter lobbyists, science and human health are in charge now.”

In addition to environmentalists, some within the business community were also pleased with Obama’s choice. Former Austin City Councilmember Brigid Shea, now principal and co-founder of an environmental consulting firm, stated, “As a businessperson who’s concerned about the environment, it’s time this region got someone who understands that we can have both a healthy environment and a strong economy, that the two are not at odds.”

Dr. Armendariz will take over for Acting Region 6 Administrator Larry Starfield. During his tenure, he will face a number of pressing environmental challenges, including potentially overseeing the implementation of federal climate change legislation, bringing metropolitan areas in Texas into compliance with the Clean Air Act and working to clean up toxic “hot spots” along the Gulf Coast.

“Texas needs a tough air enforcement chief at EPA 6 Dallas like Dr. Armendariz who’s willing to tackle head on the state’s serious air quality challenges with large urban areas like Dallas and Houston failing to meet new ozone standards, and who is willing to require Texas to clean up its large dirty coal plants and refineries,” stated Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter.

Environmental justice activists from communities across the state are also hopeful that the appointment of Dr. Armendariz will benefit Texans living directly adjacent to polluting facilities

“The Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice is a document that looks good on paper, but in the real world EPA’s office of Environmental Justice has at times sided with industry over our communities; and pollution problems in poor communities have gotten worse, not better,” said Suzie Canales, Executive Director of Corpus Christi-based Citizens for Environmental Justice. “Now under Armendariz, we have real hope that environmental justice issues will be a serious priority to the agency.”

Many environmental justice groups endorsed Armendariz from the beginning of the Regional Administrator selection process, citing his commitment to science, his understanding of the issues and his dedication to enforcing the spirit of environmental laws such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

“Dr. Armendariz is exactly the kind of person you’d want to have this job, but seemingly never gets it,” said Jim Schermbeck, long-time Field Organizer with Downwinders at Risk. “Because of what’s at stake and the fact that Texas is the belly of the polluter beast, this may be one of the most important, far-reaching appointments the Obama Administration makes. Downwinders at Risk is proud to have been the group that first utilized Dr. Armendariz’s expertise for our cause of cleaning up the Midlothian cement kilns back in 2005. That work lead directly to his becoming the premier ‘citizen’s scientist’ in Texas on air pollution, and paved the way for his much larger influence on the state scene. Congratulations to both Dr. Armendariz and the EPA.”

As enthusiastic as environmentalists are about the appointment, they also promised to hold Dr. Armendariz accountable to the people affected by pollution issues in the five-state region. “As outstanding as Dr. Armendariz has been on paper and in interviews, we’ll be watching to make sure he walks the walk,” says Jacoby, who works in TCE’s Dallas office, “Remember, Al, my office is right down the street.”

# # # #

By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

Read Full Post »