Tonawanda Coke Corp. Found Guilty!

Tonawanda Coke Corp. Curtesy of Tonawanda News

On March 28th, 2013 twelve jurors found Tonawanda Coke and its environmental control manager  guilty of 14 criminal charges violating the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The trial included testimony from over 30 witnesses, many former employees, and lasted over a month.

This landmark verdict is only the second time in US history that a company has been indicted and found guilty under the Clean Air Act – and has set precedent for a number of environmental cases to come.

As Judith A. Enck, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, said to the Buffalo News,

“The verdict against Tonawanda Coke Corporation and Mark L. Kamholz sends a strong message that companies and individuals can’t simply ignore environmental law and disregard people’s health.The company faces up to $220 million in fines and Mr Kamholz up to 75 years in jail.  A historical case, no doubt.

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The “Bucket”

I never thought in a million years that the air sample my neighbors and I took with the “bucket” several years ago would  have lead to this.  But it did!

Never underestimate the power of a couple of committed and impassioned citizens to affect change.  We did it, and I truly believe others can too.

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The Whole Truth, Nothing but the Truth…

..so help me God.  This is the part of the oath that I have heard approximately 30 witnesses take in the last 30 days of sometimes very excruciating testimony in the Tonawanda Coke  Corp vs. United States of America (EPA) case at United States District Court in Buffalo, NY.  A historical case in many ways. I didn’t realize it would be setting precedent for future cases when it started nearly a month ago, but now I do.  I attended nearly everyday; and, as I sat there, it dawned on me that none of this would be happening if it wasnt for a few neighbors and me taking our own air samples (via the “bucket“) in Tonawanda a few years ago.

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Buckets housed with tedlar bags in which we captured air samples in Tonawanda (2008).

Wow!  I got chills thinking about it and am right now.  When that happens I know it’s my soul telling me, “This is cool, you are in the right place and making a difference.”  As I sit here this morning knowing that the jury is deliberating, I am reflecting on all of what has happened these last several years and feeling humbled and grateful to have been part of all of this positive change in my community.

As this trial is setting precedent for future cases, my wish is that what we did will set precedent for change in other overburdened communities. It doesn’t take an army to affect change, just a few passionate people with good focus and determination. That we were  as a very small community group, calling ourselves the Clean Air Coalition of WNY in Tonawanda, NY. We knew in our heart of heart’s there was a problem with the air we were breathing and we believed people were sick because of it.  We took it upon ourselves to take our own air sample, and discovered an air pollution problem.  We brought our results to the attention of the government agencies (NYS DEC and EPA), and worked with them to affect change!!

It began with just a few of us, not an army.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

― Margaret Mead