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Judge Rules In Favor Of Environmental Group

The state Supreme Court has ruled that an environmental organization will not have to turn over confidential documents to Tonawanda Coke Corp.

Judge Paula L. Feroleto granted a protective order for the Clean Air Coalition of western New York against the company’s effort to have thousands of confidential documents handed over. The coalition has led a campaign to force Tonawanda Coke to reduce levels of benzene and other dangerous contaminants into the air.

Feroleto ruled this week that Tonawanda Coke’s demand in August that the nonprofit group turn over records to it was overly broad and misdirected, since the documents should be in the possession of the individuals themselves. The Clean Air Coalition is not a party to about 20 lawsuits, with dozens of plaintiffs who have alleged injuries from exposure to chemicals used in making high-quality foundry coke for steel manufacturing.

“The subpoena as written is exceedingly broad, and certainly not within the framework of records kept in the ordinary course of a business. Therefore, the motion by the Clean Air Coalition for a protective order is granted,” Feroleto wrote.

Neil Pawlowski, partner at Duggan & Pawlowski LLP, which represents the environmental group, said, “The court has affirmed that a corporation like Tonawanda Coke cannot go on a fishing expedition against a community organization whose sole purpose is to help protect and serve the neighborhood.”

“We will not capitulate to institutions that cause illness and suffering in our communities,” said Erin Heaney, the Clean Air Coalition’s executive director. “Corporate polluters across the region should take note of the court’s decision.”

A person who declined to identify herself at Tonawanda Coke said the company would not comment on the judge’s decision.

Public pressure and media coverage that emanated from protest actions taken by the Clean Air Coalition in 2009 have led to tougher enforcement actions by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and reduced pollution in the surrounding community.