Birmingham coking plant owned by the governor of West Virginia unlicensed, several health violations
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WIAT) – Amid an ongoing legal battle between the Jefferson County Board of Health, GASP and Bluestone Coke, the Birmingham plant has currently halted production.
A spokesperson for the Jefferson County Department of Health told CBS 42 on Monday that the plant had gone to “cold idle” after we asked about why Bluestone Coke did not appear to be active .
Bluestone Coke officials last month said in a press release that the plant will go into “hot idle” until April 2022, while repairs are made to the facility to increase safety. According to court documents, a “hot idle” occurs when a coke plant does not produce coke, but the coke battery continues to be heated. In a “cold idle”, coke is also not produced and the kilns and gas in the plant are closed.
Bluestone Coke uses coal to produce foundry coke, which is used in the metallurgical industry.
The process of heating coal can produce a significant amount of air emissions, which is why factories like Bluestone are monitored and regulated by the Jefferson County Department of Health.
Neighbors in North Birmingham, where the Bluestone plant operates, have reported health concerns about the plant since it was taken over by Bluestone Resources in 2019, and even before then, when the plant was owned by other companies.
“Residents have been telling us for years about the health effects, ranging from asthma attacks to cancer and death,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of the Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution.
Court documents show that the GASP was successful in intervening in JCDH’s civil action against Bluestone Coke. The environmental justice organization hopes to help residents of north Birmingham and protect their health.
Eric Herrod, who lives right across from Bluestone Coke, told CBS 42 that soot from the plant’s emissions was covering his cars. He’s even more concerned about what it’s doing to his lungs.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m breathing, all this contamination.”
Amanda Doctor just moved to North Birmingham in June. She told CBS 42 shortly after moving in that she noticed that she and her grandson, both with asthma, were having trouble breathing.
“My asthma is more and more present. I have to be on my respirator every night now, ”she explained.
According to court documents, the Jefferson County Department of Health has recorded numerous violations in recent years at the plant. The regulations put in place by the ministry aim to protect air quality and human health.
In August, JCDH attempted to deny Bluestone a license that allows them to operate due to health violations, but a hearing officer granted Bluestone’s suspension motion. This allows Bluestone to operate until a final decision is made at a court hearing. So although Bluestone’s operations are currently on hiatus, according to court documents, they are still technically cleared to operate in the meantime.
In addition to health concerns, CBS 42 has confirmed that Bluestone Coke does not currently have a commercial license. By telephone, the Jefferson County Tax Department and the City of Birmingham Tax and Licensing Office said Bluestone Coke did not have an active business license.
CBS 42 has attempted to contact West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, owner of Bluestone Resources, dozens of times by phone and email. All of our requests have so far been ignored or denied. In October, we were able to attend one of the governor’s Zoom press conferences, but we were removed from the press conference before we had a chance to ask questions.
CBS 42 spoke to Wall Street Journal financial reporter Julie Steinberg, who has written several articles over the past year on the Justice government’s finances related to its coal business.
She explained that the Wall Street Journal had started reviewing the government’s finances for justice while working on an article on Greensill Capital, a now bankrupt supply chain finance company. Steinberg told CBS 42 Gov. Justice’s Bluestone Resources was a client of the company and had taken out approximately $ 850 million in loans from Greensill.
“The governor has interests in the southern United States, so there are just a lot of different company names and a lot of different interests,” Steinberg said. “The governor is required to disclose many of these interests and according to our last count, there were over 90 of them on his business ethics form.”
Steinberg went on to say that it is difficult to determine what Bluestone’s current value is as a business. She explained that the company’s plan was to increase production at some of its facilities to help pay off debts.
Governor Justice’s son Jay Justice is the CEO of Bluestone Resources, according to his website. Interview requests from him or any other Bluestone manager were also unsuccessful.
JCDH and the City of Birmingham also declined an interview with CBS 42, citing ongoing litigation.
CBS 42 interviewed Governor Kay Ivey, to see if she was aware of what the justice government was doing in her state.
“Well, I sure don’t have a lot of specifics on that,” Ivey said. “Better to check with the company. ”
CBS 42 followed up with Ivey, asking if she thought he should be held responsible.
“Everyone should be held responsible,” she said.
At present, there are two separate cases regarding Bluestone Coke. According to court documents, there is an administrative action regarding the Jefferson County Department of Health’s permit denial. A hearing on this matter is scheduled for December 8. According to new court documents sent to us by the GASP, Bluestone is trying to move this hearing date, with the support of JCDH.
The other case is a civil lawsuit against Bluestone Coke. The JCDH initially filed this case, and the GASP intervened later. JCDH is calling for civil penalties for each of Bluestone’s violations, according to court documents. A trial is currently scheduled for November 2022.
Stay with CBS 42 for more on this developing story.