September 05, 2001
Ohio in hot
water over air quality
U.S. EPA calls
Enquirer Washington Bureau
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned Ohio
that it could lose authority over its clean air programs
unless it improves oversight and enforcement against
A draft report by the EPA's
regional office in Chicago found that the state has taken
adequate steps to enforce federal clean water and hazardous
waste regulations and that its criminal enforcement of
polluters is among the best in the nation.
But the EPA, which had
described its 18-month review in Ohio as unprecedented,
recommended that the state promptly enact reforms to avoid a
possible federal takeover of its clean air programs.
Overall, Ohio continues to
make progress in protecting the environment, EPA
Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said. Nonetheless, there
is work to be done, together.
The EPA prefers to prod states
toward better enforcement practices rather than take the
extreme step of assuming control over programs. Ohio
environmentalists petitioned the EPA to take over Ohio's
environmental enforcement after years of complaints that the
state was not aggressive enough.
We were surprised that the
Bush administration has gone as far as it has gone, said
David Altman, a Cincinnati attorney who represents the
environmental groups that filed the petition. I believed they
were really going to whitewash the problem.
The EPA recommended that Ohio
increase staffing and training in its clean air programs,
involve the public more in its policy reviews, streamline its
permit process, create a better method to track polluters, and
improve its inspections.
The state has a month to
respond to the report before the EPA holds a public meeting in
Columbus in October on its findings. The EPA will issue a
final report a month after the meeting.
Ohio EPA Director Chris Jones
said the report's conclusion that most of the state's
environmental enforcement is sound removes a cloud from the
agency and its staff.
In a detailed response Tuesday,
Mr. Jones said, among other things, that there is a
contradiction in the report on clean air enforcement. The EPA
claimed that there had been a decline in air pollution
inspections, investigations and penalties while at the same
time rating overall enforcement as strong. Over the past 10
years, Mr. Jones said, civil penalties from clean air cases
accounted for 47 percent of the $68 million in total
Mr. Jones also said the Ohio
EPA reached an agreement with the EPA to temporarily reduce
air pollution inspections to concentrate on meeting deadlines
for reviewing permits.
The report comes at an awkward
time for Donald Schregardus, a former Ohio EPA director
nominated by the Bush administration to become assistant
administrator of the EPA. Environmentalists have tried to
derail the nomination by criticizing his enforcement record in
It's not good news for Donald
Schregardus, said Maria Weidner, a policy advocate here for
Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group. This
is a really bad report card for the Ohio EPA.
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