News Release:
Citizens scorch Ohio EPA

For immediate release: November 13, 2001

Jennifer O’Donnell, Ohio Citizen Action
330/329-6208 (cell)

WORTHINGTON —- Leaders of grassroots citizens groups from around the state called on U.S. EPA to take back Ohio’s policing authority for environmental programs as the federal agency took the first public comments on its draft report of its unprecedented investigation of the state’s performance. The report, released in September, made national news and sunk the nomination of former Ohio EPA chief Donald Schregardus to the top enforcement post with the federal agency.

At a news conference before the public hearing, citizen leaders described their local fights to get the Ohio EPA to do its job. They also stuffed an oversize suggestion box for Governor Bob Taft with 16,000 pink slips for Ohio EPA director Christopher Jones.

Jill Van Voorhis, president of Citizens Against American Landfill Expansion in Stark County, described her shock upon learning that Ohio EPA had just granted an exemption from state law requiring a permit and license for owning and operating a solid waste disposal facility to the nearby Exit C&D landfill. In April, Exit owner Timothy B. Williams was convicted in U.S. District Court for violating federal permit requirements by dumping waste in a nearby tributary of Indian River Creek. Williams was sentenced to four months in federal prison for the illegal dumpings.

"If it were up to us, we’d put out a warrant for Christopher Jones’s arrest for the environmental destruction the EPA is allowing in our community," Van Voorhis said.

Marilyn Wall of Ohio Chapter–Sierra Club showed the metallic particulate matter that neighbors of AK Steel in Middletown have been collecting that deposits on their homes and cars. In a community survey by the Department of Environmental Services, neighbors reported aggravated respiratory and allergy problems; irritated eyes, nose and throat; and nausea. On June 30, 2000 the U.S. EPA sued AK Steel for air, land and water pollution violations.

"Despite the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, Ohio EPA has allowed massive pollution to ruin homes, property and the environment in Middletown. Ohio EPA has for decades failed to adequately enforce the law at AK Steel," Wall said.

"U.S. EPA had to step in and begin to enforce our laws. Unfortunately the reforms in this report don't go far enough to prevent more AK Steels and have, so far, failed to stop the pollution from AK Steel."

"Every day we hear of new threats of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare," said Pauline Leboda of Lorain County Neighbors Protecting Our Environment. The group discovered that Ohio EPA had let nearby Nylonge Corp. go for five years without the permit to operate required by law. "We have lived with the threat of chemical exposure for many years. The only difference is this chemical exposure is allowed by our own government.

The report was prompted by a petition filed in 1997 by Ohio Citizen Action, Rivers Unlimited, Ohio Chapter–Sierra Club, and later the Ohio Public Interest Research Group asking U.S. EPA to revoke Ohio’s authority to enforce the major environmental laws: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates solid and hazardous waste.

U.S. EPA officials undertook an 18-month review of Ohio EPA’s enforcement programs, relying on interviews with agency employees and reviews of agency records.

"This is about the opportunity to make the Ohio EPA a true law enforcement organization," said Dave Altman, attorney for the petitioners. "The regulators sometimes forget that the people who live closest to the problem are a key to making environmental law enforcement work. Today’s hearing will be the first time that a large number of regulators who were involved with the report have had a chance to hear directly from a fraction of the citizen watchdogs."

Citizens can submit written comments to U.S. EPA until December 13, after which a final report will be issued.

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