The state agency has let some Ohio firms use less-efficient, less-expensive pollution filters and controls without first meeting federally approved standards
IT APPEARS that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has cast its lot with air polluters instead of the public by failing to meet federal deadlines and requirements on relaxed air-pollution limits for businesses.
Rather than aggressively acting to protect public health, the state EPA has allowed some Ohio companies to use less-efficient, less-expensive pollution filters and controls without first meeting any federally approved standards.
The problem started with a 2006 state law that let new businesses, such as gas stations, body shops, and dry cleaners, install less than the "best available" pollution-fighting equipment if they emit less than 10 tons of pollutants a year. The previous standard was 1.8 tons a year.
The Ohio EPA's job was to craft a plan that businesses could follow that still would protect public health. But it required federal approval before the new standards could be implemented in the state.
Yet, apparently, the state agency was in no hurry to meet a federal deadline for review and missed it by more than a year. "It took longer than we anticipated to get the information to them," said Heidi Griesmer, an Ohio EPA spokesman.
The material due at the federal EPA by Jan. 17, 2007, was instead filed on Jan. 18, 2008. And, according to federal officials, the state neglected to show how it would enact the standards while still safeguarding the public welfare.
Environmental activists blasted the state agency for its laxness, especially when the state already faces federal mandates to reduce smog and soot problems in many urban areas. Teresa Mills, who leads the Buckeye Environmental Network, said EPA officials know the law and what they need to do.
"They just chose not to do it," she said. The agency also chose to continue to apply the 10-ton pollution limit with businesses until it hears otherwise from the U.S. EPA.
The federal agency, which has the power to revoke state authority to enforce the new standard if it believes public health is threatened, remains confident that the matter will be resolved.
In the meantime, Ohio companies likely will opt for more budget-friendly pollution equipment that may not work as well as other devices and could allow more pollutants to escape.
But that scenario appears to be OK with the Ohio EPA, content to wait while polluters take advantage of relaxed air pollution standards that arguably may not be in the best interest of the public.