Seattle glass recycler Saint-Gobain leads list of NW companies fined for violating Clean Air Act

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Robert McClure and Lisa Stiffler

InvestigateWest

Saint-Gobain Containers bills itself as a “world leader” in protecting the environment.  Its hulking south Seattle plant recycles used glass into new bottles – part of a noble effort to conserve resources, the company says.

“We are committed to a sustainable future for not only our business – but the planet,” the company says.

And yet Saint-Gobain’s Duwamish-area plant, operating under its Verallia label, has racked up more than $962,000 in fines for violating the Clean Air Act in the last five years, making the Paris-based company the most-fined toxic air pollution emitter in the Northwest, government records show.

Saint-Gobain’s plant on Highway 99 just north of the First Avenue Bridge is only one of dozens of facilities around the Northwest, and particularly concentrated in the Puget Sound region, where regulators have struggled for years to rein in pollution – often exceeding time frames that regulators themselves set as deadlines.

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Shell refinery No. 2 in NW clean-air fines; others include LaFarge, other manufacturers

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Highest Northwest air-pollution fines

By Robert McClure

InvestigateWest

The list of facilities that have ended up on the wrong side of Clean Air Act enforcement efforts in the Pacific Northwest is a long one. Dozens of firms are classified as “high priority violators,” often because the potential for affecting public health is high. Following are snapshots of a few of the Northwest facilities regulated under the Clean Air Act. A full listing of enforcement actions is available through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Compliance History Online database.

Shell Oil: Shell’s refinery has escaped the intense publicity directed at its neighboring refinery in Anacortes, Wash., Tesoro, where a massive blast killed seven workers in 2010. But Shell’s fines for environmental infractions actually outstrip Tesoro’s, with Shell’s $291,000 in fines in five years numbering it as the No. 2-most-fined Clean Air Act violator in the Northwest. Shell also faced 16 notices of violation and 15 formal enforcement actions in that period. EPA has classified the Shell refinery as a “high priority violator” at least since the end of 2008, the ECHO database shows. The EPA data indicates the agency stepped in several times when state efforts did not work – which is the way the system is supposed to work.  Jody Barnett, external affairs coordinator at the Shell refinery, did not return three telephone messages requesting comment .

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Poisoned Places - Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

By Jim Morris, Chris Hamby and Elizabeth Lucas / Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News in collaboration with NPR

For all of her 62 years, Lois Dorsey has lived five blocks from a mass of petrochemical plants in Baton Rouge. She worries about the health of people in her life: A 15-year-old granddaughter, recovering from bone cancer. A 59-year-old sister, a nonsmoker, felled by lung cancer. Neighbors with asthma and cancer. 

She's complained to the government about powerful odors and occasional, window-rattling explosions — to no avail, she says. Pollution from the plants — including benzene and nickel, both human carcinogens, and hydrochloric acid, a lung irritant — continues.

“If anything," said Dorsey, herself a uterine cancer survivor, "it’s gotten worse."

Americans might expect the government to protect them from unsafe air. That hasn’t happened. Insidious forms of toxic air pollution — deemed so harmful to human health that a Democratic Congress and a Republican president sought to bring emissions under control more than two decades ago — persist in hundreds of communities across the United States, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and NPR shows.

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EPA grant to help Duwamish Valley residents, businesses prioritize health needs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying south Seattle’s pollution-scarred Duwamish Valley needs help to sort through health and environmental problems, on Tuesday awarded a $100,000 grant to local groups to examine health risks and come up with strategies to improve conditions.

The valley between West Seattle and Beacon Hill  encompasses the neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown, which have disproportionately large minority and low-income populations, as well as the industry-packed Duwamish River. The river has been declared a Superfund site under federal law, meaning it’s one of the most-polluted sites in the country.

The grant announced Tuesday is to examine health issues outside the immediate area of the Superfund site.  Across south Seattle, as InvestigateWest has documented, residents face a plethora of health issues, including toxic air pollution, the highest rate in King County of kids hospitalized for asthma, residents eating contaminated seafood, and the fact that the area is a “food desert” because of a lack of fresh groceries. A separate $50,000 grant will help the groups advise EPA about health issues related to the Superfund site itself.

“With our partners, we will make a difference,” said James Rasmussen, executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Group, “… not just to make plans but to take action.”

The grant is to:

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Changes at InvestigateWest

InvestigateWest is announcing some exciting new changes!

With the departure next month of Executive Director and Editor Rita Hibbard, the InvestigateWest board is pleased to announce the Robert McClure, a co-founder as well as an award-winning environmental journalist, is succeeding Hibbard as acting Executive Director.

At the same time, Carol Smith, a co-founder and acclaimed social issues and health journalist, is moving into the role of acting Executive Editor.

“Robert will guide a growing, stable and exciting news organization into its next phase,” said Hibbard, who is leaving to pursue other projects long put on hold by the demands of a thriving nonprofit newsroom. “As a co-founder, he profoundly understands the importance of what we do, and is in a great position to push it forward.”

InvestigateWest is an independent, nonprofit investigative news organization founded in 2009 and based in Seattle. It is staffed by journalists with a track record of producing in-depth stories that produce change in public policy and practice.  It has received funding from both national and regional foundations.

InvestigateWest’s work resulted in three laws passed by the state Legislature in 2011, including two establishing worker safety and health rules after the publication of a story linking exposure of chemotherapy drugs to illness and death among health care workers, and another banning carcinogenic pavement sealant after InvestigateWest wrote about their widespread use.

 “Carol also will bring her investigative and narrative skills to the fore in her new role,” said Hibbard, who has been at the helm since InvestigateWest’s launch. “She’s a wonderful writer and journalist who will contribute hugely to the new organizational structure.”

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Rita Hibbard's picture

Going green: new city law requires buildings to report energy use

While more than 25 percent of Seattle’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, few property managers know how much energy their individual buildings consume.

 “They all know the mileage of their car,” Jayson Antonoff, sustainable infrastructure & green building policy advisor for the Seattle Department of Planning & Development, said. “But not the energy use of their building.”

By not knowing the amount, managers also don’t know how efficient their buildings are. Because many of the buildings are not as energy efficient as they could be, much of the energy paid for by property owners, building managers and tenants  goes to waste.

That could change. A new Seattle ordinance now requires managers of buildings larger than 10,000 square feet -- a total of about 9,000 buildings -- to report and disclose their annual energy consumption to the city.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Senior Policy Associate for the NW Energy Coalition Kim Drury said. “Feedback is critical in energy management.” The coalition is focused on development of renewable energy and energy conservation.

Drury was one of 50 people, including property managers, tenants, city officials and energy conservation activists, who worked in developing this policy as a way to achieve the overall goal of the Green Building Capital Initiative, which was to reduce energy consumption in Seattle’s existing buildings by 20 percent.

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Protesters attack Port of Seattle salaries, seek better conditions for workers, less air pollution

Protesters attacked air pollution, working conditions and high salaries for port executives

Against the backdrop of a towering asthma-medicine inhaler, about 250 protesters demonstrated downtown on Thursday*, saying the Port of Seattle should do a better job of cleaning up air pollution, taking care of its low-level employees and reining in the six-figure salaries of its executives.

The protest outside a meeting of the American Association of Port Authorities targeted in particular Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani’s 9 percent pay raise earlier this year that gave him a salary more than twice that of Gov. Chris Gregoire – as state employees saw their paychecks dip 3 percent. Yoshitani makes $366,825 a year.

One protester carried a sign saying “Tay’s pay is not OK.” Others carried Yoshitani’s visage emblazoned with “Overpaid.” Protesters included labor activists, environmentalists, port workers and others.

“He got a 9 percent raise!” state Rep. Zack Hudgins told the demonstrators. “Did anyone here get a 9 percent raise?”

Hudgins, D-Seattle, said he will file legislation that would:

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Activists, truckers, religious leaders call for Port of Seattle to treat truck drivers better

Singing the African-American spiritual “Wade in the Water,” activists and religious leaders and truck drivers tried Wednesday to breach security at a downtown conference of seaport authorities to appeal to the Port of Seattle to improve working conditions and pay for drivers.

In the same hotel where hundreds of delegates to the World Trade Organization took refuge from tear gas in 1999, the activists sought to highlight their call for drivers to be hired as employees instead of scraping by as independent contractors. The drivers say they are on some days working for less than minimum wage, waiting for up to six hours to get a load that might pay them $40 or $50. Because they are independent contractors, the drivers also are responsible for sometimes-expensive maintenance and repairs.

Several waves of protesters, about 30 in all, were turned back in front of a phalanx of Port of Seattle police officers on the fourth floor of the Westin. “If you are not credentialed, you need to head right down that escalator!” Westin General Manager Elizabeth James instructed the last wave, which broke into song as the protesters moved slowly toward the exit.

The protesters are planning a larger demonstration outside the Westin Thursday at noon.

Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle and a board member of the activist group Puget Sound Sage, said he was trying Wednesday to deliver a letter from several local and national religious leaders calling for better treatment of the drivers. Several workers also bore their own letter, hoping to deliver it to Port of Seattle executives at the conference.

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