(August 13, 2003 Chalmette / New Orleans) In an alarming deviation from precedent and the law, St. Bernard Fire Chief Thomas Stone refused a request for public records regarding operations at ExxonMobil's Chalmette Refining. "I called to request what is routine information," said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an organization that trains residents of St. Bernard parish to take air samples and monitor pollution. "I was stunned by the refusal. I have received this kind of information countless times from other parishes and the state. This is deviant behavior."
In his capacity as Chair of the Emergency Planning Commission, Mr. Stone is required to provide information to the public regarding operations at all facilities in the parish. On Friday, August 8th Ms. Rolfes requested information under the Public Records Act of Louisiana, R.S. 44:1 et seq. A letter faxed to Mr. Stone today by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade memorializes his blanket refusal, noting that "you stated you would not provide [the reports]. When I reminded you that the reports are public information and that you are legally required to provide them, you again refused."
Mr. Stone advised Ms. Rolfes to get a lawyer if she wanted the information. The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic is now assisting the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in this matter.
The Emergency Planning Commission plays an important role in protecting the community from accidents at facilities. Mr. Stone's refusal to provide the most basic reports has alarming implications for public safety and appears to place the corporate interests of ExxonMobil above community safety. In the conversation of August 8th, Mr. Stone implied that the record request is the equivalent of shutting down the plants.
"The response given by Mr. Stone should concern everyone in St. Bernard and New Orleans - all of us who would be affected by an accident at the facilities and who are affected by the ongoing emissions," said Ms. Rolfes. Included in the Emergency Planning Commission's responsibilities is to communicate risks from the plants' operations to the public. "I am trying to understand ExxonMobil's emissions, and Mr. Stone threatens that I am going to shut it down. His response is unreasonable and hysterical."