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Ponca Tribe proceeds with lawsuits over carbon black pollution

Part two

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Ponca Tribe is proceeding with federal lawsuits against both the Continental Carbon Co., owned by the Koo family of Taiwan, for carbon black emissions from its Ponca City-based factory as well as the federal government for a lack of accountability in the Ponca Tribe's pollution problems that began around the time of Oklahoma statehood in 1907.

Current Ponca Tribal Chairman and former Ponca environmental director Dan Jones tried to visit with the Koo family in Taiwan about the carbon black pollution in 2004, and it was reported in a previous article by Indian Country Today that Jones was threatened with arrest and deportation.

''We want it shut down,'' Jones said about the CCC Ponca City facility. ''The money, to us, isn't as important as stopping this kind of pollution. For God sakes, if they can run one clean in Taiwan where they're from, how can they come over here and run one just completely filthy right under [Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality's] watch? It wasn't until we screamed for several years that DEQ would even slap any kind of fine on them. In fact, they acted like they couldn't see the pollution.''

Documents obtained from Oklahoma DEQ by ICT show that the state filed a ''Notice of Violation and Request of Information'' against CCC on Dec. 14, 2004, after tests conducted that previous summer. DEQ Air Quality Division Case No. 06-365, filed Nov. 29, 2006, states that ''the facility is a major source'' for the following: particulate matter, oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and total reduced sulfur compounds.

Matt Paque and Sarah Penn, attorneys for Oklahoma DEQ, said that for the past year, emissions have decreased due to CCC complying with the consent order. Paque said that the consent order contained milestones that CCC had to meet and that CCC would be forced to pay additional fines if the terms of the consent order were not followed.

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''Two years ago, DEQ received a lot of citizens' complaints about dust leaving the Continental Carbon property and hitting other nearby landowners' property,'' Paque said. ''As a result of that, we did several inspections at the facility. We did find some violations of our air quality regulations, and we did bring an enforcement action against Continental Carbon. They're now under a consent order with DEQ that requires the facility to solve additional controls for dust.''

When ICT contacted Continental Carbon's Houston office, a return call was made by public relations representative Blake Lewis. ICT asked Lewis questions regarding the carbon black problems in Ponca people's homes, which Lewis described as ''anecdotal evidence.'' Lewis then issued ICT a press release dated April 19 that stated ''observations of dark stains blamed on carbon black frequently are the result of other substances that either appear naturally in the environment or are introduced by other sources.'' The materials listed in the statement include soil materials, diesel exhaust, residential fireplace soot, mold, algae, mildew, fungus and rubber tire dust from roads.

The statement from Lewis on behalf of CCC also states that since CCC acquired the Ponca City facility from Witco in 1995, CCC ''has invested millions of dollars in operational and environmental improvements in lieu of posting profits. In fact, the company accelerated the timetable for making a portion of this investment in the Ponca City facility as a part of an agreement with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to do its share in improving the environment.'' However, this statement says nothing about the initial violation orders filed by DEQ.

On May 24, the Columbus, Ga.-based Ledger-Enquirer reported that the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear a case in which CCC was ordered to pay $17.5 million in damages based on pollution from a Phenix City, Ala., carbon black facility. It was also reported that CCC would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ponca City is the former home of retired Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla. Nickles, who is now with the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm The Nickles Group, was formerly a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The Nickles Group Web site states that one of its areas of expertise is ''emission standards.'' Repeated attempts to contact Nickles at his Washington, D.C., office were not returned by press time.

The Ponca Tribe also filed a lawsuit in federal court on Dec. 31, 2006, against the U.S. government. Jones said that at the present time, the main purpose of the lawsuit is to create a dialogue with the federal government. According to Jones, ''a part of that suit is basically asking the government to give us an accountability on how they allowed this happen,'' he said.

Jones said the Department of Justice has asked to sit down and speak with the Ponca Tribe. ''The suit's still filed, but if they want to talk, we're prepared to talk,'' he said.