CONSTRUCTION of a new coking plant on the Oregon/East Toledo border is a positive economic move for the Toledo area and northwest Ohio. It will bring much-needed jobs both in the construction and operating phases, and could spur the location of other businesses here.
And when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit in 2004 for the plant, its tough standards on environmental pollution seemed to make this a winning situation all round: Good for the economy and for jobs, while minimizing health risk to the extent possible.
That perspective holds true today, in general terms. But the way in which the appeals process of the original permit has been handled raises concerns.
After the initial permit was issued, the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club and the village of Harbor View appealed to the state's Environmental Review Appeals Commission.
While that appeal was pending, former Ohio EPA director Joe Koncelik in 2005 - and in response to another appeal of the original permit, this one claiming it was too restrictive - amended it, modifying mercury and other pollutant emission requirements.
Earlier this month, the same environmental review panel ruled Mr. Koncelik did not have the authority to make that modification.
The result? Gov. Ted Strickland plans to push through, at the urging of lawmakers, legislation that will allow permits to be modified by the EPA director even though those same permits still are being appealed.
So the pursuit of a worthy project - and the coking plant is important to this area - has led to a move that can be viewed as compromising the appeals process and shortchanging the rights of environmental groups and others who oppose the original permit.
It may seem a rather arcane situation involving appeals and permits, and who amended what and when. But it boils down to this. Should the head of a state department be given the authority to amend a permit when that permit is under appeal, and should such an important change in the permit process as this be enacted without extensive public discussion?
It is anticipated that legislation to effect this will be included in Ohio's 2008-2009 fiscal budget, which by law must be signed by the end of this month. If it is successful, current Ohio EPA director Chris Korleski will be permitted to amend the permit to ease some environmental standards at the planned plant.
U.S. Coking Group, which is financing the plant, says the project is viable even under the original permit.
So why should Ohio lawmakers go through such hoops to change the law? Why compromise the permit appeals process?