Delaware Sierra Club, ACLU petition Attorney General on Refinery Title V Hearing
On Behalf of the Sierra Club, Delaware Chapter, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition with Attorney General Beau Biden in June asking for a review of the DNREC hearing for the Delaware City Refinery's Title V permit renewal. The hearing, held on June 4, 2013, could not accommodate all those who tried to participate, which violated the Freedom of Information Act and a prior opinion by the Attorney General on public hearings.
The hearing was held at the Delaware City Fire Hall, which had seating for ~200 people. Newspapers reported between 1800-2000 people came to the hearing, many of whom were refinery workers who were bused to the hearing from a rally held at the nearby refinery. Among others who were unable to get a seat inside the hearing or testify were nearby residents. Some of those who signed up in advance of the hearing to speak were unable to get inside to submit testimony during the hearing.
"The military presence outside the hearing was oppressive, even intimidating to local residents. We were asked to "pick a side" to get in line to enter the hearing, which made us apprehensive about entering the facility. No local resident should have been denied access to this hearing, which affects us personally" said Delaware City resident Kristina Lynn.
"My family and I were looking forward to coming out to talk about the pollution that the plant is trying to get away with, but we were not prepared for the circus that ensued. It was so ridiculous to see bus loads of people coming out "in support of jobs", who don't even live in Delaware! Because of all the showboating, we weren't even allowed in to speak or even hear what was going on" said Middletown resident Emily Van Alyne.
"We got text messages while waiting outside from friends who were inside telling us that there were seats vacant so we approached the state police standing guard but they said they weren't allowing any more people inside. There were loud speakers outside so we could hear what was going on but they largely proved ineffective because of the refinery bus that kept circling around to pick up/drop off people every 2 mins and drowned out the loud speakers" said Craig Dsouza of Newark.
"DNREC obviously made an effort to make sure that there was a lot of police and staff support, but did not make the effort to ensure that those who came were able to effectively participate. Those of us who were unable to get inside were therefore refused our right to participate in a public meeting. While I appreciate that there were speakers so that the people who were left outside could hear what was going on, between being across the street and not having everyone who spoke use a microphone that was attached to the speaker system, it was difficult to understand everything that was happening inside" said Maureen Griffin of Newark.
The hearing was originally scheduled without the required 30-days notice for federal permits and was only rescheduled after we provided DNREC staff with a copy of the federal code that specified the public meeting requirements. By conducting the hearing as they did, we are concerned that DNREC has again not abided by the minimum legal requirements for public hearings. We are asking the Attorney General to review the hearing.
Delaware Attorney General Opinion 02-IB09 states: "We conclude that if a public body has reason to know that a large number of citizens is likely to attend a meeting, then FOIA requires the public body to find another, larger place for the meeting. Alternatively, in the event of an overflow, a public body should consider adjourning the meeting to another time at a facility that can accommodate all of the interested citizens." The hearing officer, when made aware of this information, refused to take action.
Public hearings are an important part of the regulatory process and should be held in a manner that respects the law.