Cornell University

Engaged Cornell Speaker Series: “We Make the Road by Walking: Navigating the Intersection of Democracy, the Environment, Academic and Democracy”

Friday, November 1, 2013 at 12:00pm to 2:00pm

Weill Hall, 226

There are very few examples of successful university-community partnerships that lead to social change. This is a rare and unique story about the Clean Air Coalition’s historic actions against Tonawanda Coke Corporation, a notorious polluter that was emitting high levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen, into the environment.  Buffalo’s Clean Air Coalition works to pass policies that are protective of public health and the environment through grassroots organizing, leadership development and community-based research. The Clean Air Coalition led an organizing campaign in collaboration with local community members, students and faculty that resulted in a raid of the plant, a jury finding the plant guilty, potential fines up to $200 million and an 86% decrease in benzene emissions in the region. The presentation will focus on the process used to achieve this victory, the challenges the collaborative group overcame and the important role that community-based research played in the process.

Erin Heaney has been the Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York since 2009.  Erin ran the grassroots campaign against Tonawanda Coke Corporation that resunted in a raid of the plant, the federal indictments of the company's environmental control manager, a consent order with the US EPA and the reduction of benzene emissions by 86% in the Town of Tonawanda.  Since then, the Clean Air Coalition expanded to begin organizing in several marginalized Western New York neighborhoods around environmental health and justice issues.  During Erin her time as Director, Erin has quadrupled the budget and staff, deepened the engagement of and grown the board of directors, secured funding from national and location foundations, launched the organizations grassroots fundraising program, and doubled and diversified the organization’s membership. Erin has been awarded EPA Region 2’s Environmental Quality Award, was recognized by Business First as one of Buffalo’s 40 under 40, and as a Tonawanda Woman of Distinction. Erin serves on the Steering Committee of the Western New York Environmental Alliance and is the founding co-chair of the organization’s Environmental Justice Working Group.

Light lunch will be provided.  If you are interested in attending, please RSVP to

Event Type

Panel Discussion


Public Service Center, Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI), Sustainability



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Erin Heaney

Speaker Affiliation

Director, Clean Air Coalition of Western New York

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