Naked City

Rockdale Smoke Out

Naked City
Photo By John Anderson

While the legal dispute simmers, the public relations battle over air pollution at Alcoa's Rockdale plant remains on a high boil. Earlier this month, Alcoa responded to a Notice of Intent to sue the company issued by environmental groups Neighbors for Neighbors, Public Citizen, and Environmental Defense with a full-page newspaper ad defending its record. The groups allege that Alcoa has violated the federal Clean Air Act since the mid-Eighties by continuing to operate under "grandfathered" pollution rules, despite major modifications to its equipment that should have triggered tougher pollution controls.

Alcoa responded that it has complied with all state and federal laws in maintaining its equipment and says it will be vindicated in court. The company pointed to its recent commitment to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide emissions over the next several years as evidence of its "commitment to the future," and concluded, "There appears [sic] to be two different emerging views on how best to improve air quality effectively and quickly. Alcoa's is to invest and manage responsibly; the other is to review, debate, and litigate."

In an op-ed response to Alcoa's ad, Neighbors for Neighbors president Billie Woods pointed out that the aluminum manufacturer did not make its "voluntary" commitment to reduce emissions until the Legislature finally moved to eliminate the grandfathered pollution exemption (after 30 years of dithering at industry behest). "Even more significant, in its recent permit application to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission," Woods continued, "Alcoa has stated that instead of spending the money to reduce SO2, it may instead elect to shut down its three power plants -- but not until the March 2007 deadline set by the Legislature.

"In other words," Woods continued, "Alcoa wants the option of continuing to pour out SO2 at current massive levels for five more years and then shutting down its power plants, rather than spending the $100 million touted in its ad." Evidence of Alcoa's continuing violations is reflected in the company's own documents, he noted, urging the company, literally and figuratively, to "quit blowing smoke."

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