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Ohio can get long-term good from serial polluter’s actions



Published: Fri, April 11, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

Nineteenth-century British prime minister, writer and dandy Benjamin Disraeli once mused, “There is no education like adversity.”

His sentiment rings true in 21st-century Ohio when it comes to health, safety and security regulations governing the state’s lucrative and burgeoning oil and gas drilling industry. Specifically, the adverse impact of Ben Lupo’s irresponsible and unconscionable dumping of brine waste into a Mahoning River tributary in Youngstown late last year has educated state leaders and lawmakers of the need for tightened rules over the industry and heightened penalties for those who defy them.

That lesson is embedded in Ohio House Bill 490, which had its first hearing this week before the lower legislative chamber’s agriculture committee. HB 490 would expand the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ authority to revoke or suspend drilling and related activities of those who break the state’s environmental laws.

The legislation also would strengthen requirements for transporting brine and increase potential prison time and penalties for violators.

The impetus for the bill originated last December when an employee of Hardrock Excavating LLC, under orders from chief Lupo, dumped brine and drilling mud from 20,000-gallon storage tanks on Salt Springs Road down a storm drain and into the Mahoning River tributary. The reprehensible violation of the Clean Water Act was repeated for at least two dozen additional nights.

Today, the employee has pleaded guilty, and mastermind Lupo awaits sentencing in federal court in June. He could receive a maximum sentence of three years in prison, a penalty that we argued earlier this month he richly deserves and should be longer.

THE LUPO CONNECTION

Mark Bruce, a spokesman for the ODNR, acknowledged the role the Youngstown polluter played in drafting the legislation: “The illegal actions of Ben Lupo and associates were a factor in the development of these updates.”

To be sure, ODNR’s speedy response in revoking Lupo’s two company licenses and its work on this meaty legislative follow-up ought to calm those critics of state regulators of the oil and gas industry who bemoan they are too weak, too ineffective and too tightly tied to drillers’ interests.

But the industry itself has joined the thunderous chorus of Lupo slammers. Commenting on the new legislation, Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said, “We appreciate the concern of ODNR that they would have adequate tools to prosecute people who willfully and egregiously violate Ohio and federal law and pollute the environment. We want to see those people prosecuted as much as anybody else out there.”

The Lupo case, for all its slimy irresponsibility, sleazy underhandedness and environmental destruction, proved that state regulators and state lawmakers can be trusted to act aggressively and speedily to defend the state’s natural resources when called into quick action. We strongly urge swift passage of the tightened regulations to better ensure such lawlessness is not repeated and to eke out some long-term good from the adversity and embarrassment that Lupo dumped on Mahoning County and the predominantly responsible oil and gas drilling industry.


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