COEYMANS — Air knows no boundaries, but litigation does.
Under the threat of a lawsuit, the Coeymans Town Board is all but ready to amend last year’s Clean Air Law. The proposed amendments will rip the teeth out from the law, circumvent legislation passed by the County Legislature earlier this year, and essentially allow LafargeHolcim to seek out tires to burn for fuel — exactly what the town sought to prevent just a year ago.
The board did not vote on the proposal following its public hearing on Thursday, Nov. 19.
The proposed amendments still prevent hazardous and medical waste from being processed within town limits. It also states that no amount of waste can be considered a fuel source “unless approved and permitted” by the state DEC or federal EPA.
LafargeHolcim had previously warned it would sue the town for preventing it from using tire derived fuel to power its $500 million kiln. The merit of that threat became more evident when the company successfully fought to overturn a similar law in Baltimore, Maryland earlier this year.
The Switzerland-based company had received a DEC permit to burn tires at its cement processing plant in Ravena. Before it was to start incinerating shredded tires imported from Connecticut, the Town of Coeymans passed legislation against it. The company has argued that tire-derived fuel is “environmentally progressive” and is permitted through state and federal regulations.
Town Supervisor George D. McHugh said Coeymans has neither the money nor the means to enforce its Clean Air Law and would rather leave the matter up to the scientists and professionals on the state and federal level.
“I have to protect Coeymans residents from a frivolous lawsuit and I’m not going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend a lawsuit that I can’t win,” McHugh said at a town board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19. “I’m not going to defend a law … that I can’t even enforce, anyway.”
Opponents who spoke against the amendment said the issue was more political.
The laws in Baltimore, Coeymans, and later Albany County, were all drafted by the same Philadelphia lawyer, Mike Ewall, founder and executive director of Energy Justice Network. In August, he told county legislators there should be no concerns immediately before they proceeded to pass its law.
Albany County pursued its own legislation following a shift of political power in Coeymans led by McHugh and his Coeymans Comeback Team. Then-Supervisor Philip Crandall, a Democrat, feared such a switch would lead to a repeal of the town law.
The town board swung Republican after McHugh and his two running mates, Zachary Collins and Brandon LeFevre, earned seats in last November’s election. The shift to Republican leadership was reflected on the county level, too, when former Coeymans Town Board member George Langdon beat Democrat incumbent Richard Touchette.
Up until last year, McHugh served Carver Companies as its general counsel. Carver operates the Port of Coeymans which earned a state contract to clean up old tire dumps. And, opponents are tying that with LafargeHolcim’s interest in tire-derived fuel.
“Everything that’s been said here is a lie. That’s all I want to say. I think it’s a disgrace, what you’re going to do — or try to do,” said Joe Tracey, a Coeymans Democratic Committee member. “What you got to live with. And, while the public is out there trying to voice their opinion, you’re playing your little games with the Baltimore — the Baltimore law has nothing to do with ours. So, I can see that the deck is stacked.”
When the board offered to hear his facts on why he believed they were lying, he waived his time to “someone who knows more about it.”
“Do you know who’s in charge of enforcing the Clean Air Law for Albany County? The Sheriff,” McHugh said. “He doesn’t have a department that regulates clean air. He doesn’t have scientists. He doesn’t have the equipment to do that kind of stuff. And, who on the town level has that? My code enforcement officer? … That’s why it’s best left to the DEC and the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States.”