Tonawanda News — Residents will be turning up at the polls this week in an effort to turn pollution and illness into an environmental recovery for the neighborhoods most impacted by Tonawanda Coke.
Clean Air Coalition organized this week’s voting events, which allow residents to offer their opinions on how the potential the plant’s possible sentencing fines should be spent.
“Over the last month, Clean Air has engaged hundreds of residents to identify community projects they would like to see funded by these fines,” a statement from the nonprofit reads. “Residents brainstormed many products at a large community assembly, and then fine-tuned these ideas into detailed projects that could reduce the risks of toxins and improve health in their neighborhoods.”
The coke-making plant and its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, face more than $200 million in fines and 75 years in prison when Judge William Skretny sentences them July 15. Since the defendants were found guilty of violating both the Clean Air Act and the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act in late March, organizers and politicians have been pressing Skretny and other government officials to keep a portion of the potential fines local.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said how those fines are allocated is almost exclusively Skretny’s decision.
“Keeping the funds local is complicated. It involves many other laws, including some that discuss where proposed fines must be allocated,” he said. “But in some other environmental cases, part of the sentence was a community restitution component.”
Hochul also said the government is treading on new ground, as the federal case against the plant is only the second Clean Air Act Case under Title V — the section which set up a national permitting program and required industrial companies to monitor their air pollution.
The case and the sentencing could set a precedent for future environmental cases to come.