Health, Politics

Maddox joins diverse delegation lobbying for clean air

Russ Maddox and Father Oleksa join with national delegation to support clean air legislation. Photo submitted by "50 States" group.
Russ Maddox and Father Oleksa join with national delegation to support clean air legislation. Photo submitted by “50 States” group.

By Heidi Zemach for Seward City News

Russ Maddox, a local, state, and national clean air and water advocate who works with Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups, recently joined with former Seward resident Father Michael Oleksa to represent Alaska on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Father Oleksa is a much beloved Russian Orthodox Priest and Alaskan storyteller, a leader in the development of cross-cultural education in Alaska, and an esteemed student of Alaska Native languages and cultures who seeks to foster greater understanding across boundaries of race and culture.
The two were part of a diverse coalition of “Clean Air Ambassadors” selected from all 50 states to call the attention of their legislators and key national policy-makers to National Asthma Awareness Month, and specifically to call for the adoption of strong air pollution standards including greater protections from smog, coal ash, carbon and other dangerous air pollutants, and for the protection of the Clean Air Act.

The coalition included representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the American Nurses Association, Earthjustice, the Hip Hop Caucus, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the National Council for the Churches of Christ in the US, the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“Our primary message to Congress and our delegation in particular was to quit blocking progress at EPA. The long awaited coal ash rule has been stalled by Congress for years allowing more innocent folks to be unnecessarily exposed to dangerous toxins,” Maddox said. “We also asked Congress to quit blocking Gina McCarthy’s nomination for EPA administrator. The gist is that many EPA rulemaking processes continue to be blocked by members of Congress, and as long as this gridlock prevails progress on clean air and water and carbon reductions will be stymied”.

Maddox said he felt honored to have been selected to represent Alaska in this arena next to a man with the stature and charisma of Father Oleksa, but also to be a part of such a diverse group of individuals. “I have had the pleasure of lobbying and working with the Gwich’n and faith-based organizations, and youth organizations in the past, but this was by far the most diverse coalition I ever had the honor of working with, and I do feel the administration heard our message loud and clear, and that they agreed.”

Personally, Maddox asked the EPA not to allow another provisional permit for the Aurora Energy coal- fired power plant in Fairbanks, which would allow them to continue to exceed emissions standards. He also asked that EPA not allow another five-year extension for the Fairbanks North Star Borough to reach attainment and comply with federal air quality standards. He is also urging the EPA Environmental Justice Department to review the State’s response to a large area with groundwater contaminated with sulfolane, affecting hundreds of residences near a refinery in North Pole.

Maddox met Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe, Alaska Congressman Don Young, Senator Mark Begich’s environmental staffer Michael Johnson, EPA Solid Waste Director Mathy Stanislas, EPA Air and Radiation Director Gina McCarthy, EPA Director of Environmental Justice Lisa Garcia, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, and several Senate Energy and Resources Committee minority staffers.

Maddox has served in a volunteer capacity in many roles; as Advocacy Director for Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, as Fifth Officer of the Sierra Club Council of Club Leader’s Executive Committee, and most recently on the Statewide Advisory Board for Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.

While he may be a well-known, and respected advocate among state and national environmental communities for his advocacy on a variety of contamination and policy issues, Maddox has nevertheless remained a controversial public figure here in Seward. Many town leaders and business people did not appreciate the lawsuits he brought over regulatory requirements, nor their cost in terms of time and effort to fight them in court, and some believe he exaggerates industrial pollution issues in Seward, and brings negative public attention to them.

“Ever since my home was illegally contaminated in 2001, I have been advocating for other innocent victims of chemical trespass across Alaska,” Maddox said. “With my hometown in Alaska being the home of the only operating coal export facility on the west coast of the United States, and being familiar with the challenges this presents, I have been working diligently to help communities in the great Northwest where coal export facilities are proposed avoid a similar fate,” Maddox said.


Maddox feels misjudged locally in regard to RBCA and its allies’ motive for filing a lawsuit to draw attention to industrial pollution into Resurrection Bay and to prevent it from continuing. That lawsuit was repeatedly appealed in the courts by the City of Seward. Many people still misguidedly think it was all about money, he said, but in fact a non-profit cannot legally profit from their work.

RBCA and ACAT eventually received $124,357 in reimbursement for their accrued attorney’s fees for the legal action taken against the City of Seward in 2006 for discharging pollutants into Resurrection Bay from the Seward Marine Industrial Center (SMIC) without the required National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Claims that boat repair work that had taken place in the Seward Small Boat Harbor also required NPDES permit were not substantiated by the Ninth Circuit Court and were eventually dropped, however, because upon later inspection, the court found that boat repair work was not being done there at the time.

The City still contends that according to their own legal advice, no discharge permit was required, but it now has the permit at SMIC as the court ordered. And now, for the first time, a vessel wash-down pad is being constructed there to catch and contain contaminated runoff from the scraping and cleaning of ship’s hulls. There are also hopes for a similar wash-down pad in the small boat harbor uplands.

Global Monitoring's Gary Larson shows Maddox how to set up air filters prior to the citizen's monitoring effort. Heidi Zemach photo.
Global Community Monitor’s Director Denny Larson, of Northern Calif, shows Maddox how to set up air filters prior to the citizen’s monitoring effort. Heidi Zemach photo.


Sierra Club and Alaska Community Action on Toxics, which Maddox also volunteers for, are involved in another local lawsuit with Aurora Energy and the Alaska Railroad Corporation alleging they violated the Clean Water Act by allowing coal to fall off of the conveyor belt and enter the water and pile up there over a number of years. Since the lawsuit was filed, the Alaska Railroad Corporation has contributed significant funding toward improvements to the aging transfer facility’s coal conveyor belt, enclosing it better, placing pans to catch falling coal beneath the most troublesome areas, and has also initiated procedures for closing down coal transfer operations during the windiest conditions. It has also improved its own monitoring, and sprays the coal stockpiles more frequently to limit the amount of fugitive (escaping) coal dust.

According to Maddox it’s still not nearly enough, however. Having toured many other coal storage and transfer facilities in the U.S. and Canada, he says that Seward’s is the only one without bag house ventilation systems, that all other coal stockpiles at transfer facilities are constantly wetted to prevent dust to escape, and they are all located in heavy industrial areas, isolated from populated areas and residences.

“It just seems logical to me that being situated so close to campuses and bunkhouses and public areas that we should have the best available technologies for containment,” he said.

Prompted by public questions about coal dust, and the City’s hopes for a definitive answer, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation conducted an Ambient Air study in Seward that concluded last year. It found that there was “no cause for concern” regarding our ambient air quality due to the lack of weight and size levels of particulate matter discovered in the air monitors filters atop five buildings spread across town.

But Maddox, and fellow environmental advocates did not agree with those findings. They launched their own citizen’s-monitoring study of the air quality. The DEC study only collected PM10s on predetermined days regardless of weather conditions, and never analyzed their filter’s contents to determine their sources, they argued. “No one ever said we had an air problem,” Maddox said. “We have been hearing for years that we have a coal dust problem so that is what we targeted in our own (citizen’s monitoring) project. We ran our monitors on dry windy days, and we situated our monitors in the small boat harbor, where the coal dust concerns are. The study we designed also measured PM 2.5s (smaller sized particles) and analyzed every filter for content.

The data from that recently completed one year project is being compiled and peer reviewed. A report on its findings will be released soon.



  1. I love the statement by Mr. Maddox that the DEC ran their tests regardless of weather conditions therefore skewing the data. Then RBCA ran their tests stating “We ran our monitors on dry windy days” instead of the average Seward day. Who is skewing the data?

  2. A “Hip Hop Caucus” exists, really?

  3. Congratulations, Russ! Thanks for all you do to try to help protect our environment. Industry often treats Seward like a third world country, dumping their pollutants into our air and water without any containment or enforcement of local, state, and federal laws. I wish more people would speak up for clean air and water. Thank you so much for caring.

    “There is no business on a dead planet.”

    Carol Griswold

  4. Thank goodness there are environmental activists like Russ!

  5. Thanks Russ for your years of effort in protecting what’s important here.

  6. Clean air and water needs no defense.
    It needs more defenders…….like Russ!

    Nice job on all your efforts Russ. It’s great to see the overdue recognition for all you’re countless nonprofit hours put in for this community.

  7. Mark, trap lines are important also.

  8. Good job Russ! I have asthma and quit coming to Seward (im in cooper landing) when I heard about the bad air quality there. Maybe you can finally get it cleaned up and I will return!

    • Dee-

      I hear many reports from those who suffer from asthma that in dry, windy conditions here in Seward they experience more difficulty breathing. However as reflected in the DEC air monitoring project report our overall average air quality is quite excellent. Ours is a dust problem and is episodic rather than chronic. You might want to avoid dry and windy and especially dusty days outdoors but by no means should anyone avoid visiting Seward for any reason. Dust is relatively easy to control but the city and RR have not yet seen it as a problem worth addressing. Once upon a time we had water trucks routinely wetting gravel roads in dusty conditions and the former operators of the coal export facility kept the massive stockpiles wet in dry weather conditions and reports of dust problems were rare back then wheras now they are routine. Now one can watch dustclouds blow over town on any given windy day. Not only is asthma on the rise globally we apply much more sand to our wintry roads and store and ship larger volumes of coal through our community. Folks who suffer from asthma or other respiratory challenges and seniors and infants are most vulnerable. It seems logical to me that we should do all that we can to limit their exposure to dust and additional discomfort in any way that we can. Folks who have concerns or observations to share should direct them to our city council and RR. We could start by wetting dusty roads and and areas and make incremental plans to eventually pave them to reduce sources of dust.

  9. Thanks for the response Russ. For someone like me, a coal dust problem is an air quality problem and I will steer clear until it is resolved. I love kayaking there, but only on dry days. Good luck!

  10. Dee
    Russ’s message is Seward is safe for you on a rainy day. Such nonsense. I too have asthma and have lived in Seward for 15 years both in and out of town. You know as well as I the number one reason for flare ups is pollen (lets get rid of those polluting trees!). I have lived in many dusty places and Seward is not one of them by a long shot. There is simply too much moisture for that. Sure take samples ONLY on dry days and it may make town look dusty that is not an accurate picture.
    RBCA continually tries to paint Seward as a hazardous air and water hot spot. Go their web site and see the coal section under Concerns and the caption that calls Seward “A Dirty Little Coal Town”. Its such propaganda and we are not that.
    Anyway your doctor could give you better advice on travelling to Seward but my asthma

  11. … is contained rain or shine except about now with the pollen. No need to live in fear.

  12. Many thanks to Russ Maddox and others who fight the good fight against those who don’t care about their impacts on people, fish & wildlife, other living things, our air, water, groundwater, and soils. There are lots of people and corporations who think that treating our skies, streams, and soils as free sewers for their waste should be a-okay … I’m so glad that people like Mr. Maddox hold offenders accountable!

  13. Thank you Russ for your commitment, courage, and work to protect the places and people that we love. Your work benefits the entire community–ironically, even those who choose to criticize you. I hope that people will open their hearts and minds and see the benefits of your work.

  14. Russ,

    I’d love to see the expense reports on just how much your trip cost; where you stayed, at what restaurants you ate, for what class your plane tickets were, and just who donated the funds.

    By the way, what’s your organization’s (RBCA) position on the burning of dirty a$$ fuel oil and fracked propane, both of which are helping to ruining our delicate earth and destroy ground water?

    Or, are you getting lots of donations from Shoreside, Suburban, and Amerigas?

    …actually, that’s all public information for those that wish to take a nice forensic look, isn’t it?

    Admit it hypocrite, you’re bagging a nice little boost to your personal lifestyle from your little non profit – just like another ‘non profit’ I can think of here in town.

    By the way, my wife has asthma. We burn coal year round, and she doesn’t have problems unless we have a pollen event – share that with your little planted commenter from Cooper Landing.

    • Philly you crack me up!! I have thought for years that Russ pretends to be others on here! He always has the same two or three people backing him up (they are legit) and all the others are good ole Russ, answering himself with made up names, about how wonderful he is!!!

    • You burn coal year round, Philly? Well I bike year round, and every time an inversion is holding coal smoke down, it becomes extremely unpleasant to breathe as I pedal past each house that heats with coal. I’m glad your wife’s asthma isn’t aggravated, but have you considered your neighbors’ lungs?

      • Why are you addressing this issue just to someone who burns coal? If it’s your lungs that you are concerned about, you should also be addressing your comment to the huge number of people who burn wood. Also, how often does Seward get a thermal inversion? I’ve never seen one here – and I know what they look like – so it can’t be that often. We do not have the same geography as places like Fairbanks or Salt Lake City that situated in low basins that have significant, chronic problems with thermal inversions.

        • You bring up some good points, Sissy. I don’t know the exact chemical differences between wood smoke and coal smoke. But to save time, I apply the ‘my mama’ test to a whole lot of my life. Would my mama serve me marshmallows toasted over a coal fired campfire? Would she put up salmon that had been cold smoked with coal smoke? Only after I told her I was going to put her in a home I think.

      • With what filthy fossil fuels do you heat your home and food Timmy-Boy?

        Do you burn fracked propane, the process of which is destroying aquifers across the nation – the suppliers of which engage in price fixing?

        Or do you burn fuel oil, laden with a grocery list of toxins that are cumulative, and readily released on combustion? We won’t even discuss how toxic the refinement process is.

        The filthy fuels that you burn are just as damaging as coal.

        But since you burn them – they’re okay?

        From extraction to combustion – there are no clean fossil fuels – period.

        Again, you’re just another Seward hypocrite – judging the sins of others without once looking in the mirror, and realizing you’re as bad or worse.

        Let me help you – you’re not special, and you don’t care more about the community than the rest of us.

        And as far as your biking is concerned; I wouldn’t worry about your lungs from coal/wood stoves. I’d worry about the soccer moms that blow through residential streets at 20+ mph over the speed limits in their gas hog SUVs.

        • Fuel oil and propane, I use them both. Electricity too. And on laundry days I’ve been known to load up a car and drive it in to town. I eat industrially farmed meat, I wear plastic clothes, and I actually prefer the taste of pepsi from a bottle over that from a soda fountain. I’m no avenging angel carrying the sword of environmental justice in one hand and the pointy finger of judgment in the other. My environmental stance is about community.

          Refining oil takes a heavy and toxic toll, that is true. But the communities that refine it trade their chronic poisoning in for good jobs and nice cars. I chose this community in part, for its clean air. I’ve got a tiny house and a rusty bicycle to show for it. The fumes from my laser stove have had the better part of their poison absorbed by the good and financially better off people in Bellingham.

          No fossil fuel is without costs, both immediate and down the line; to our health and the planet’s. We are brothers in that philosophy, Philly. But making blanket statements about all fossil fuels charging all of us the exact same bill is a tired argument tactic. Coal smoke was the main reason President Nixon signed the EPA into existence. Nobody likes breathing acid.

          • No, it’s not a tired argument.

            You have no high ground on this.

            As pertains to fossil fuels, you’re a part of the problem as much as the rest of us.

            You say you burn propane, fuel oil, and use electricity?

            Where the %$#@ do you think your electricity comes from???

            And because you’re willing to let others on the planet trash their community (whether in Anchorage, Bellingham or China) to support your standard of living; that makes your perspective self-interested hypocrisy – not community concern.

  15. Like a drug counselor with a crack addiction.

  16. Coal burning in Seward?

    I was wondering if there are any regulations on coal burning within the city limits.

    A neighbor recently started burning coal and it is extremely unpleasant. Depending on the weather, rainy days are the worst, the coal smoke creates a haze along out our street. The air smells horrible. When I have the bathroom fan on, the smell get pulled in. We can’t have our windows and door open for fresh air because of how strong and nauseating the smell is.

    Other than selling our house and moving, do we have an rights or actions we can take as homeowners within the city limits?

    ~I am writing anonymously as I don’t want to call anybody directly out on this and so I don’t get personally flamed (as so many people seem to respond so negatively).

    • Coal burning is indeed legal inside city limits and out. Years ago there was interest in banning coal burning inside the city limit but that was in response to a developer’s plans of building a coal fired power plant in the harbor by the coal stockpiles. Luckily we dodged that bullet but interest in an ordinance against burning coal in town faded like the memory of the coal plant proposal. Since oil prices went up in 2008 use of coal became a choise for some and complaints of coal smoke and ash problems have increased every year since. This past winter I received 34 calls from both inside and outside city limits of coal smoke bothering folks in their homes and several calls reporting coal ash dumped in inappropriate places. True we don’t have inversions often but when one has asthma or other respiratory challenges it doesn’t take much. DEC responded to a couple complaints outside of town, and wound up asking some folks to raise their chimneys higher and to avoid coal burning when there was no wind. It doesn’t take an inversion for folks on hillsides to be effected by their neighbors smoke. If folks inside the city limits feel strongly about this they should raise this to city council to see if any may care to propose such a ban. Outside of town it will likely always be addressed on a case by case basis.

      • Hi Russ!

        I know D.C.

        I’d love to see your itinerary, where you stayed, where you dined, how you got around.

        I’m interested how you were living while out of town trying to save Resurrection Bay.

      • Coal burning in Seward?

        Thank you Russ. I will consider at least writing a letter to the city. I appreciate the dedication to and hardwork don for this town.

  17. Russ….you can fool a lot of people but you can’t fool me!!! LOL You need to stop pretending to be others on here!! DUDE you look like a fool!!!!!!! Like Philly says, lets see your itinerary…….First class flight, hotel, and meals I’m sure!!!!!

    Coal Burning in Seward is Russ
    realist is Russ
    Timinsk is Russ
    Dee is Russ

    All these people are Russ pretending to be someone else………..

    • Coal burning in Seward?

      Actually, Coal Burning in Seward, is not Russ. I am a 10 year Seward residents who works in this town and wanted to ask a question without being flamed out by the likes of you. Plus, I didn’t want my neighbor to feel uncomfortable or called out in public. Sorry to ruin your conspiracy.

  18. Coal Burning near me

    Yes Coal Burning could be any number of us who can’t spend much time outide because of the stink but understand why it is used. I’ve tried complaining to city as well as tactfully with neighbor but no luck…. The stink of it makes me gag.

  19. EDITOR’S NOTE: SCN confirms that all comments on this article were originated from different source IP addresses. This indicates that the commenter’s in question are unique.

  20. I think disallowing anonymous comments would decrease the nasty comments and add value and merit to the discussion on this forum. What do you think? Quick easy survey at link below. Will post full results.

    Click here to take survey

    • I took the survey, Russ, and had the same problem with the comment section as CBNM. While it’s tough to watch thoughtful people take a beating from the knee-jerks, I think a cloak of anonymity allows a greater possibility for discussion in the long run. Small towns can hold long grudges, and meaning might be lost if someone is too polite or timid to come right out and own a statement.

      I commend everyone here with the strength and conviction to use their real names, but I think shifting a ton of gravel for an ounce of worth is a healthy part of the process.

      • Timinak and others- Thanks for taking a few minutes to fill out the survey. I’ll give it another day or so and then post the results in their entirety. Regarding the comments after the last question; in the free version of SurveyMonkey it gave two choices for limits on comments, 50 and 100, being unfamiliar I incorrectly assumed they were talking words but as it turns out that limited responses to 50 spaces which isn’t enough for much. And editing any survey once launched is impossible which is refreshing when you think about it. I’ll choose the 100 spaces in the future. I just hope the conversation and exercise will raise the caliber of comments and reduce personal attacks in the future.

        • EDITOR’S NOTE: Russ Maddox is not an employee or representative of Seward City News

          1. In your opinion if Seward City News were to require a verifiable identity for all commenters would this improve or diminish this valuable online forum? IMPROVE 66.67% DIMINISH 33.33% No EFFECT 00%
          2. Have you ever commented on Seward City News articles? YES 77.78% NO 22.22%
          3. Have you ever posted an anonymous comment on any Seward City News articles? YES 22.22% NO 77.78%
          4. Would you be more or less likely to post on Seward City News if anonymous comments were disallowed? MORE LIKELY 44.44% LESS LIKELY 33.33% NO DIFFERENCE 22.22%
          5. Would you be more likely to read Seward City News if anonymous comments were disallowed? MORE LIKELY 44.44% LESS LIKELY 22.22% NO DIFFERENCE 33.33%
          6. Would you be more likely to advertise or post on Seward City News if anonymous comments were disallowed? MORE LIKELY 44.44% LESS LIKELY 5.56% NO DIFFERENCE 50%
          7. Would you be more likely to advertise or post on Seward City News if anonymous comments were disallowed? MORE LIKELY 47.06% LESS LIKELY 11.76% NO DIFFERENCE 41.18%
          8. Would disallowing anonymous comments decrease the value or merit of this online forum? YES 60% NO 40%

  21. Coal Burning near me

    As a general rule, i don’t believe anonymous comments and mostly disregard them…. But…. I do not want my neighbor pissed off at me but do want people to know how bad coal smoke is as far as the smell. I understand why it is being burned. I could not add this comment to the survey.

  22. Coal Burning near me

    Oh and IMHO the survey is a bit subjective and leads the taker in only one direction

  23. Generally I like the idea of people using their real names, but I also like being able to speak my mind without the possibility of being targeted by a bunch of camera toting do-gooders who wish to document every drop of oil that might drip out of my rear main seal. Not that anybody in this town fits that description…….

    • It is exaggerating exactly like this that continues to divide our community. I cannot speak for anyone else but personally I only respond to citizen reports and only if it sounds illegal and substantial. Your leaky crankcase would not merit my time nor interest. Personal attacks and “targeting” individuals is simply not in my DNA. Anyone that thinks that anything but preventing unnecessary contamination motivates me is sadly mistaken.

      • You sue your neighbors and this community/city, and complain about personal attacks?

        You call our community, in print, ‘a dirty little coal town’, and complain about personal attacks?

        You’re little buddy sells their pristine acreage for millions, only to be bulldozed, and you both work together to report your neighbors for doing the least little work to their humble homesteads?

        If you’re looking for the bad guy, you need to check your bathroom mirror.