Local riverkeeper among 11 groups demanding new ADEM director

Published 3:00 am Thursday, August 2, 2018

Choctawhatchee riverkeeper Michael Mullen is one of 11 environmental groups calling for a new director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

The rally for a new director comes after the conviction of an attorney and company official in a bribery case in July related to the cleanup of a Superfund site in Birmingham.

The verdict against Joel Gilbert, a partner with Balch & Bingham law firm, and Drummond Co. Vice President David Roberson was announced after a four-week trial. Jurors found them guilty of conspiracy, bribery, three counts of honest services wire fraud and money laundering.

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Prosecutors said the two men bribed former state Rep. Oliver Robinson to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s expansion of a Superfund site and prioritizing the site’s expensive cleanup.

Mullen and the other environmental groups demanding the termination or resignation of ADEM Director Lance Lefleur cite a failure to maintain independence and integrity.

“Director LeFleur’s testimony at trial shows how he failed not only those residents but his job,” a letter from Black Warrior Riverkeeper to the Environmental Management Commission reads. “He apparently did not express opposition to EPA’s efforts to clean up toxic pollution at the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in North Birmingham until lawyer Joel Gilbert and lobbyists David Roberson and Trey Glenn, among others, began to exert pressure on behalf of their clients Balch & Bingham and/or Drummond Co. When Governor Bentley and the EMC joined in, the director succumbed to that pressure and began to publicly and actively oppose EPA’s efforts.

“Even worse, he sent a letter to EPA in his capacity as director opposing EPA’s cleanup in North Birmingham. Although trial testimony indicates that Director LeFleur may not have known this, the letter he sent was drafted at least in part by Gilbert, whose client Drummond Company, had the most to lose if EPA expanded the cleanup and placed the 35th Ave. site on the National Priorities List. Gilbert apparently routed the draft letter through Governor Bentley’s office, which then sent it to Director LeFleur to send.”

As Mullen put it, “He stamped the state stationary” on a letter written at least in part by a lawyer for the party that would have to pay for the cleanup.

But Mullen said this is not the only concern about LeFleur’s leadership in the agency.

“It’s been clear for a while that there has not been an even playing field between polluters and citizens,” Mullen said.

Mullen said LeFleur has placed minimum fines and sanctions on polluters and has only acted after citizen group have filed notices of intent to sue.

Mullen said a problem with Dothan’s wastewater management had to be taken to federal court before the problem was resolved.

Basically, Mullen said, the environmental groups want a director they believe is enforcing the rules and listening to concerned citizens as much as the companies under environmental regulations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.