Earthjustice Suit Seeks to Rein in Air Pollution in Ohio
Cincinnati, OH -- Earthjustice sent court papers today to initiate a lawsuit against the US Environmental Protection Agency for its chronic failure to crack down on Clean Air Act violators in Ohio. In the wake of press reports that Ohio is among nation's dirtiest states for air pollution, Earthjustice is filing suit on behalf of Ohio Public Interest Research Group in the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. According to Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell, the goal of the case is to compel EPA to take steps towards withdrawing Ohio's authority to regulate its own industrial polluters. If the case is successful, the federal agency would take over administering the clean air program for Ohio and could tighten controls on major sources of air pollution that are functioning with illegal or nonexistent permits.
"Ohio has some of the worst air pollution in the country," said Powell. "Large facilities contribute tremendously to the state's dirty air and it's essential that they be held to operating permits that reflect Clean Air Act standards."
The permit program is required by amendments to the Clean Air Act signed in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The law requires major air pollution sources to obtain detailed operating permits that must spell out pollution limits, monitoring requirements, compliance schedules, and other provisions to implement clean air laws. Facilities must promptly report any permit violation and must annually certify that they are complying with all air pollution limitations. Falsifying these reports, which are used by both EPA and concerned citizens to track air pollution, can lead to civil and criminal penalties.
"Without good permits, we can't ensure the public's safety, because we don't know whether polluters are complying with the Clean Air Act," said Amy Simpson of Ohio PIRG. "The permitting process is supposed to inform the public and EPA about polluters – which facilities are violating pollution limits. In Ohio, the process is being sidestepped and the public is kept in the dark."
In response to comments submitted last year to EPA by Ohio PIRG and other Ohio environmental groups, EPA admitted that Ohio is not properly implementing the Title V program. The agency specifically cited lax requirements for reporting violations and the lack of federal new source review requirements in Ohio's Title V permits. In addition, the state missed permitting deadlines for 40 percent of its major pollution sources. Still, EPA has refused to issue a notice of deficiency that would set Ohio on a strict 18-month deadline to either resolve the problems or lose authority to administer the program. The agency has relied on informal assurances from Ohio that it will rectify the problems.
"EPA has acknowledged the problems with Ohio's Title V program, but has failed to take steps required by the Clean Air Act toward addressing the issue," said Powell. "EPA has a responsibility under the law to ensure these clean air programs are administered in all states."