An Alabama federal jury convicted on July 20 an executive of a coal company and the firm’s outside attorney on six counts of bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering for payoffs to a state legislator to oppose an expansion of a Superfund waste cleanup in a residential area of Birmingham that would designate the firm, Drummond Co., as potentially responsible for site costs.
The defendants, David Roberson, a vice president of Drummond, which owns a nearby coke plant used in steelmaking, and Joel Gilbert, a partner at law firm Balch & Bingham, each face up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
The two had been conspiring to prevent the 35th Avenue Superfund cleanup—which has already cost about $23 million since it was taken over on an emergency basis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2013—from being elevated to the federal National Priorities List (NPL) of hazardous waste sites and expanded in size and scope, says a 2017 indictment.
The former state legislator, who pleaded guilty last year to bribery and tax evasion, has not yet been sentenced. In a statement, Drummond said “we were assured the firm’s community outreach efforts on our behalf were legal and proper.”
The cleanup site has elevated levels of arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene.
To date, EPA has remediated 389 properties with about 138 others remaining, says an EPA spokesman. More than 50,000 tons of soil have been removed.
The area has yet to be added to the NPL after the state of Alabama, which would pay 10% of the cleanup, objected.
At least four other private-sector manufacturers could also be liable if the site was added to the Superfund priority list.
Several environmental groups have asked EPA Region 4 Administrator Trey Glenn to permanently recuse himself from matters related to Drummond, Balch & Bingham and ABC Coke and any other party involved in the 35th Avenue site.
Glenn worked as a technical consultant to the companies and law firm and helped them organize opposition to adding the site to the NPL. He also worked to oppose investigating the extent of the contamination in two nearby neighborhoods.
Glenn recused himself for one year when appointed to the EPA position. He was chief of the Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management from 2005 until he resigned in 2009.
In a recusal statement published in January, Glenn pledged to recuse himself from “ articipating personally and substantially in certain matters in which l have a financial interest, or a personal or business relationship," including former clients Balch & Bingham and Drummond.