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Ohio EPA report not a good one

Agency's problems could result in a federal takeover

By Dale Dempsey
Dayton Daily News

COLUMBUS | The federal government could revoke Ohio's authority to enforce the nation's clean air laws if changes to the program are not made, said Thomas Skinner, a Midwest administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"I will say it's possible," Skinner said Tuesday, as nearly 300 people and many environmental groups showed up to comment on a U.S. EPA report that's critical of the state's air quality program. "We will work with them and watch to see if improvements are made . . . but it is a step we would take if necessary."

It would be the first time any state in the country lost its authority regarding environmental laws. Should it happen, the U.S. EPA would take over the inspection and permit process, Skinner said.

The development stems from a petition sent to the federal agency more than two years ago by a coalition of environmental groups, which Skinner said resulted in the most comprehensive review of a state's environmental program the U.S. EPA had ever done.

"Some of their allegations were well founded," he said.

The groups include Ohio Citizen Action, the Ohio Sierra Club, Rivers Unlimited and the Ohio Public Interest Research Group. They are now putting pressure on Gov. Bob Taft to replace Chris Jones, the current Ohio EPA director. The groups gathered 16,000 "pink slips" with people asking Taft to fire Jones. The slips will be delivered to the governor today.

The U.S. EPA report is in draft form. After receiving public comments, a final report will be written and the state given a chance to respond. The review of Ohio's programs covered the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and programs dealing with hazardous waste. The major flaws, according to the U.S. EPA, were found in the air quality areas.

The Ohio EPA claims the draft report contains numerous factual errors.

"While any program can be improved, and we stand ready to work with the U.S. EPA to improve this one, the draft report has done a serious disservice to Ohioans by impairing their confidence in Ohio EPA," Jones said.

The federal report criticizes the Ohio EPA for a decrease in facility inspections; a decrease in staff concerned with permitting and enforcement; failure to verify the accuracy of reports submitted by polluters; failure to provide standardized training for inspectors; and failure to use the necessary investigation methods required to uncover sources skirting the law.

The report said the Ohio EPA may lack sufficient resources to perform all of its permitting and enforcement duties.

Finding more money to add inspectors may be difficult. The Ohio EPA has had its funding cut in the last two state budgets.

"The state has to make a commitment to funding its oversight of federal programs," Skinner said. "If changes are made, Ohio is perfectly capable of meeting these standards."

[From the Dayton Daily News: 11.14.2001]

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