Mahoning Valley residents have a special interest in legislation crawling through the Ohio General Assembly because the Mahoning River was polluted by the illegal dumping of drilling waste.
Indeed, the two bills, one in the House and the other in the Senate, were introduced after it became publicly known that Ben W. Lupo, owner of Hardrock Excavating, had directed an employee to dump tens of thousands of gallons of drilling waste, including oil and brine, into a tributary that feeds the Mahoning River.
Lupo was subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with violating the U.S. Clean Water Act. He has pleaded not guilty. Fortunately, federal law treats such violations as felonies. If convicted, Lupo faces years in jail and millions of dollars in fines.
Current state law, however, looks upon such assaults on the environment as misdemeanors.
Seeking to put some teeth into the state statute, Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, has co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Frank LaRose, a Republican from the Akron area, that makes the illegal dumping of drilling waste a felony and increases fines and jail time for such violations.
The bill was introduced in February.
A month later, state Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, introduced a companion measure.
Unfortunately, the two bills have ended up on the slow legislative track. While there is nothing to suggest that the measures are being intentionally delayed, the sense of urgency that was evident four months ago seems to have dissipated.
“Other industries, every state agency, it seemed, wanted to stiffen penalties dealing with their actors,” Schiavoni said in offering a reason for the delay. “I was open to that, but Sen. LaRose got concerned with too many changes.”
LaRose, who holds sway given that the Republicans control the Senate and the House, wants committee members to review the changes before the bill is put up for a floor vote.
As a result, it appears that action will not come until after the Legislature returns from its summer break that starts July 1.
It is noteworthy that since the Lupo dumping incident, state and federal officials are looking into other violations.
Criminal, civil penalties
In April, investigators were pursuing criminal and civil penalties against Lowellville-based Soil Remediation Inc. after it was accused of dumping toxic oil-field waste into the ground on its property.
Earlier this month, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced it would consider civil and criminal actions against Harch Environmental Resources of St. Clairsville and Gulfport Energy, which retained Harch to dispose of oil-field waste.
Would a more muscular anti-dumping state law have discouraged such behavior? There’s no telling. But a minimum prison sentence of three years and a $10,000 fine for anyone who knowingly violates the law, as envisioned by the bills pending in the Senate and House, certainly would give potential violators pause.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly who have shown a willingness to fast-track legislation should work with Sens. Schiavoni and LaRose and Rep. Hagan to get the anti-waste-dumping measure passed before the July break.