COLUMBUS Revoke Ohio EPA's power to enforce federal laws, environmentalists urge
An Ohio EPA spokeswoman says some but not all of the complaints have merit.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Jill Van Voorhis had just one request of federal environmental regulators who gathered to hear public comment on the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
"Throw us a lifeline," said Van Voorhis, president of Stark County's Citizens against American Landfill Expansion.
"Our small little area is just devastated right now. We feel we're under attack," said Van Voorhis, whose group is battling the proposed expansion of a 25-year-old landfill near Waynesburg, about 10 miles southeast of Canton, and other environmental issues.
Van Voorhis was among about 200 people who filled a hearing Tuesday in Columbus. The U.S. EPA, spurred by a petition filed by environmental organizations, had two hearings to help decide whether the federal government should revoke Ohio EPA's authority to enforce federal environmental laws.
Some, such as Van Voorhis, believe the federal government should do so.
Van Voorhis said many of the hydrological and geological surveys done in connection with landfills are done on behalf of the landfills rather than being conducted by Ohio EPA personnel.
Background: In 1997, environmental groups including Ohio Citizen Action, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, Rivers Unlimited and the Ohio Sierra Club filed a petition asking the U.S. EPA to probe the Ohio EPA.
In a preliminary report, the U.S. EPA said there has been a decline in recent years in the state agency's air inspections, complaint investigations and penalties collected from air polluters.
The report added that the Ohio EPA also employed fewer people than it had indicated to operate its air programs.
The report continues that the U.S. EPA could begin the withdrawal proceedings for one or more of Ohio's programs under the federal Clean Air Act unless the state agency commits to addressing the U.S. EPA's concerns.
Carol Hester, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA, attended the hearings and said both the critics and agency officials want to improve the Ohio EPA.
"We don't think this is representative of the population in general," Hester said of the complaints. "It's kind of a situation where all the complaints are funneled into one place. Some of them have merit. Some of them we don't think have merit."
Response: In a prepared statement, the Ohio EPA said the U.S. EPA's preliminary report contained several errors and said it hoped federal regulators would consider additional information submitted by the Ohio EPA before compiling the final report.
Alonzo Spencer, 73, is president of the Save Our County Inc., which has been fighting the WTI hazardous-waste incinerator in East Liverpool for years.
"In the instance of WTI, if the Ohio EPA had implemented its own rules and regulations, the facility wouldn't have been built and it certainly wouldn't be operational today," Spencer said.
Thomas V. Skinner, a regional administrator with the U.S. EPA, said the hearings were the beginning of public comment on the petition. Public comment continues for 30 days. Afterward, the U.S. EPA will develop the final report, Skinner added.