1997 - 2002:
Results of citizens petition
challenging Ohio EPA's enforcement record

Ohio satellite imageIn 1997, Ohio environmental groups began a petition process to the U.S. EPA challenging the effectiveness of Ohio EPA's implementation and enforcement of the nation's cornerstone environmental laws: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and our solid and hazardous waste law (Resource Conservation Recovery Act). The filing of the petition was followed by the submission of 6,692 public comments by Ohioans whose quality of life had been compromised by Ohio EPA's failure to safeguard our communities from industrial and agricultural pollution.

The petition proved to be an effective tool, bringing to light hundreds of violations by both Ohio EPA and polluters. U.S. EPA Region 5 Administrator Thomas V. Skinner noted the following in a letter to our attorney, David Altman: "...Ohio EPA has taken steps in each program that should benefit its implementation of those programs... U.S. EPA has also followed up on many of the facility-specific concerns raised by the petitioners and commenters. Your involvement on behalf of your clients has highlighted the importance of these programs and the U.S. EPA recognizes your commitment to protect human health and the environment in Ohio."

The five year petition process is now complete, and it has yielded extraordinary benefits to Ohio and its residents. The petition process produced more change than we might have expected to win from 15 or 20 lawsuits. In addition, U.S. EPA began to enforce our environmental laws against major violators such as AK Steel. The U.S. EPA filed civil complaints against facilities for violations of air, water and hazardous waste regulations, ordered cleanups, leveled millions of dollars in penalties, and intensified inspections, environmental sampling and monitoring at some suspect facilities.

These U.S. EPA actions, their investigation, and their reporting should result in direct environmental improvement as well as increased compliance with environmental laws here in Ohio. But the U.S. EPA's final report is not an endpoint. We will continue to work with citizens throughout Ohio to reroute Ohio EPA's programs onto this new track.

The following is a summary of key changes and the pledged improvements made by Ohio EPA in response to concerns raised in the petition.

To improve inspections, the Ohio EPA
  • is conducting more inspections of industrial facilities
  • will use a new form to verify the accuracy of company-supplied information
  • will use a more comprehensive "Full Compliance Evaluation" form
To improve enforcement, Ohio EPA
  • reorganized its enforcement division
  • resolved all but one Clean Air Act administrative case
  • accelerated the pace of case resolution developed a compliance monitoring strategy for major pollution sources
  • reversed the decline in total penalties in most categories in 2000
  • increased both administrative penalties and total penalties assessed in 2001 by Ohio's EPA    and Attorney General
  • will implement an electronic reporting system for Ohio EPA's Division of Air Pollution Control.
To improve training procedures, Ohio EPA
  • committed to a more comprehensive training curriculum (including the Clean Air Act's New Source Review and Prevention of Significant Deterioration regulations) for entry level employees in its central and field offices.
To comply with the Clean Air Act requirement that operating permits for major air pollution sources (Title V permits) be issued by October, 1998, the Ohio EPA
  • completed 30% of the permits by April 2001, completed 75 % by early 2003, and committed to completing 100 % of the permits by September 1, 2003. However, as of September 22, 2003, OEPA has not completed this task.
  • now requires that facilities submitting an application to the agency which contains confidential business information also make a nonconfidential version of the application available for the public to review.
To improve water quality, Ohio EPA
  • is now required by U.S. EPA to issue NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits for factory farms (concentrated animal feeding operations)
  • submitted a new NPDES inspection strategy
  • committed to a major shift in inspection resources focusing on new priorities including factory farms, industrial users, storm water, and combined and sanitary sewer overflows
  • committed to develop a list of inspection candidates which U.S. EPA will review
  • committed to correcting problems with the Surface Water Information Management System (SWIMS), a database essential in obtaining timely compliance information on surface water effluent
  • ensured that dischargers will maintain and make available copies of their reports during inspections
  • committed to fixing various other reporting glitches which produce inaccurate, inadequate, or delayed reporting.
To improve the management of hazardous waste, the Ohio EPA
  • is developing a training program for its field inspectors targeted at developing stronger enforcement cases and tightening its permit system

Conclusions

U.S. EPA's final report is not an endpoint. We will continue to monitor the implementation of Ohio EPA's commitments. We will continue to work with other Ohioans to improve Ohio EPA's permitting, inspection, and enforcement programs. We will hold facilities that pollute our air, water, and land, damage our quality of life, diminish our property values, and threaten the health and well-being of our families accountable to Ohioans. We will continue to encourage Ohio residents to report environmental violations to local Ohio EPA Offices informally by phone or formally via verified complaint.