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Erin Heany, Clean Air Coalition

Get to Know a Buffalonian

This week Erin Heaney became the new executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, an activist group whose primary target has been the carcinogen-belching the Tonawanda Coke Plant, owned by JD Crane, which has refused to meet with the community even as it faces increased political pressure to clean up its act. Heaney is a native Buffalonian, a graduate of City Honors High School and Swarthmore College with a degree in Political Science. During college she interned with PUSH Buffalo and was a leader with STAND: A Student-Anti Genocide Coalition, one of the largest student movements in the country.

Compare air quality in the region to other parts of the country. Do we have it bad?

We sure do. The New York State Department of Environmental Preservation did a study that found 44 volatile organic compounds in the area surrounding the Tonawanda Coke plant. Fifteen of those chemicals are high priority air toxins targeted for reductions by the 1990 Clean Air Act. Pennsylvania didn’t stand for it—they slapped JD Crane with a lawsuit for polluting in Erie. New York State should act just as decisively.

Should we all be wearing surgical masks?

I’d say use the time you’d spend looking for a mask to call the people that represent you and tell them what’s happening is unacceptable. It’s their job to make sure we have cancer-free, sustainable communities.

How do you plan to mobilize more of the community to help fight Tonawanda Coke?

I’m hoping to get members more involved in strategic planning, decision-making, and speaking to decision makers. I’m also very excited to get our canvass up and running again, though we’ll need some committed canvassers to brave the Buffalo winter! We will continue holding educational events and honing our ability to mobilize quickly. I also hope we can join forces with other organizations who have a stake in the community’s future.

Do you have any novel strategies to engage JD Crane?

I do, but I’d prefer to keep Mr. Crane wondering. He’ll find out soon enough.

What other issues will (or should) the Clean Air Coalition be working on?

For the moment, we are focused on reducing the benzene emissions coming from the Tonawanda Coke Plant. As we expand our membership I’ll look forward to hearing where the community wants to head next. The region obviously has the natural resources, starting with fresh water, to be one of the leading green communities in the nation. Getting there requires us to clean up our brownfields and polluted air and water.

BONUS QUESTION: If you could name a perfume after the smell at the Grand Island toll booths in Tonawanda, what would it be?

Bloomin’ Benzene.

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