Residents say efficiency measures inappropriate to community’s safety concerns
A group of residents concerned with emissions coming from the Lafarge cement plant in Ravena had little interest in information presented by officials from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
The crowd, expecting to hear how a $490,000 settlement from the cement company would go toward controlling emissions at the plant or monitoring air quality at the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk high and middle schools just across the street, instead heard presentations about energy-efficient boilers and take-home science kits for students.
This was totally inappropriate, said Joan Ross of New Baltimore, after walking out during the Tuesday night, Aug. 24, presentation at RCS. `It’s inappropriate for the problems this community is facing.`
Lafarge North America operates two cement kilns, powered by coal, off of Route 9W, less than a half-mile from RCS High School. Debate over the air quality issues and safety of the plant’s proximity to the school and the surrounding neighborhoods has raged for years. The funds are a result of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois by that state’s Attorney General and those of 12 states, alleging violations of the Clean Air Act related to nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide output. The settlement requires Lafarge to install control technologies that reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide and further requires Lafarge to pay a civil penalty of more than $5 million to the states and the Department of Justice. Of that, New York received $490,000 for the benefit of the communities impacted by the cement plant.
David Prior, an assistant counsel for NYSERDA, said the programs presented to the public at RCS were chosen because of their feasibility and because of NYSERDA’s purview. `These are the projects that we’re recommending and that we have the authority to implement,` said Prior.
When asked if air scrubbers or any air-filtration method could be part of a new boiler system, NYSERDA project manager Matt Brown said `generally, filtration is not an efficiency measure` so it would not fall under the scope of NYSERDA’s programs.
After this, a number of residents asked what boiler efficiency had to do with air quality in the communities immediately surrounding the Lafarge plant.
`You’re totally diverting the money to a whole other area,` said Christian Sweningsen of Stuyvesant. `What does a boiler have to do with the air quality at the high school?`
Prior’s explanation was simple: `If we reduce the use of fuels on [the school] site, we reduce the emissions on site.`
But this didn’t satisfy most of the area residents who turned out for the presentation. Chief among them was Susan Falzone, board member of the activist group Friends of Hudson.
`They’re the good guys, NYSERDA, but they missed the opportunity to be champions,` said Falzone. She said while school districts do need efficient boilers and less vehicle emissions, it is not what the RCS community, in particular, needs right now. `They fell far short of what they could have done for the people of this community. It all makes perfect sense, but it’s just not right.`
Bob Ross of New Baltimore agreed with Falzone and wondered why NYSERDA was put in charge of the funds in the first place. `If this is the wrong agency to do something about the air quality here, then give the money to another agency,` he said.
Falzone said she sent an e-mail to NYSERDA officials months before the presentation to request a meeting to decide what would be appropriate channels for the money. While the group did receive advanced notification of the presentation, she said, the e-mails went unanswered. Prior said at the presentation that he received no such request.
Attendees also took issue with the stipulation that the funds be available to communities within a 30-mile radius of the plant.
`You can’t do that much with $490,000. You can’t,` said Falzone. `[Disbursement] should start with the people who have concerns ` the people who live next to this plant everyday.`
Prior encouraged several attendees to e-mail project suggestions to NYSERDA. That address is [email protected]“