Media Criticism Gets Under ADEM Director’s Skin With His Job in the Balance

ADEM Director Lance LeFleur (Source: Environmental Council of the States)

With his job performance under a microscope, the state’s top environmental regulator has responded to criticism of his handling of a large fish kill on Warrior River tributaries and of 3M Company’s pollution of the Tennessee River.

In a five-page letter sent this month to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, which oversees the Department of Environmental Management, ADEM Director Lance LeFleur defended the response to those and other actions.

The commission provides oversight for LeFleur’s department and has been taking public comments on his job performance through July.

LeFleur said Tyson Foods Inc. will be held responsible for the large fish kill on the Mulberry and Sipsey forks caused by pollution from one of its chicken processing plants.

Tyson will be paying for the consequences, but it is entitled to a process, LeFleur told Alabama Daily News. “We don’t close them down because of an unintentional discharge,” he said.

Regarding the Tennessee River water quality issue, LeFleur said ADEM is not responsible for handling 3M’s release of pollutants into the Tennessee River. The EPA, he wrote, “does not delegate its authority (under the Toxic Substances Control Act) to any state nor is TSCA information shared with the states.”

LeFleur told Alabama Daily News that his department has “absolutely” done its job in the matter. “I can assure you that the 3M and Tyson situations are receiving ADEM’s full attention,” he wrote in his letter, which also was sent to Gov. Kay Ivey.

The Associated Press recently reported that Ivey expressed concern over the handling of the Tennessee River pollution. She is expected to meet with LeFleur on Aug. 6 to discuss that and other matters.

The director also addressed media criticism about his role in the industrial contamination of soil in north Birmingham. LeFleur said clean-up will be completed “decades earlier” than it would have taken place if ADEM had not opposed the EPA’s proposal to place the area on the National Priorities List for Superfund action.