By now, most people are aware that a federal jury recently found Tonawanda Coke Corp. guilty of violating the Clean Air Act and the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act.
What people may not understand is where the case goes from here. There is good reason for this, as there is relatively little precedent to guide us. It is not every day, after all, that David beats Goliath. But that is what happened here, as area residents joined together to form the Clean Air Coalition, which was successful in attracting the attention of state and federal regulators to the problems plaguing their neighborhoods.
The trial of Tonawanda Coke now enters the sentencing phase. As it currently stands, federal Judge William Skretny is preparing to pronounce sentence on July 15.
The corporation could be liable for fines of around $200 million. With this in mind, a number of groups and local officials have been meeting to coordinate our efforts to urge the court to keep as much fine money as possible in the area impacted most by the corporation, namely, the Tonawandas and Grand Island.
Rep. Brian Higgins’ office, state legislators and officials from Grand Island and the Tonawandas have all been involved in these efforts. So, too, have the Clean Air Coalition and its founder, Jackie James Creedon, who now operates the Tonawanda Community Fund.
The hope is that we can convince Judge Skretny to use fine money to benefit the communities most severely affected by the pollution. Toward this end, I have introduced a resolution in the County Legislature seeking to put the county on record as favoring local disposition of the fine money.
Other local governments either have passed or are about to pass similar resolutions. Together, we are attempting to assemble a list of suggestions for the court regarding specific uses of the fine money. It is encouraging to see people from the various municipalities of all political parties come together to provide a united front.
Individuals can help, also. U.S. Attorney William Hochul is accepting victim impact statements to aid the court in determining an appropriate sentence in the case. This provides a vehicle by which the personal stories of those most directly impacted by Tonawanda Coke can make the court aware of their situations.
Statements must be submitted by July 1 to United States Attorney’s Office, Attn: Sharon Knope, 138 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY, 14202.
Although we can never totally reverse the damage that has been done, by working together, we can achieve the best result possible for the citizens of our community.
If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at kevin.hardwick@ erie.gov.