Canton Repository

October 18, 2002

Liberal lobbyists: Ohio clean water enforcement lax 

Copley Washington correspondent 

WASHINGTON — A liberal watchdog group charged Thursday that Ohio is among the most lax of states in enforcing water pollution laws.

Ohio ranked among the 10 worst states for enforcing the Clean Water Act, a report from the U.S. Public InterestResearch Group alleges.

In what it portrayed as a first of its kind review, the research group analyzed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records on industrial and municipal waste water discharges from every state except California. The data were for 1999 to 2001.

The research group said Ohio ranked worst in the nation for the number of pollutant discharges that exceeded regulated levels during the three-year period. In Ohio, 99 percent of facilities exceeded their limits at least once during the period, the report said.

The Buckeye State ranked second-worst after Puerto Rico for the number of times waste water treatment facilities exceeded limits, the report said. During the three-year period, there  were 6,780 instances where discharges exceeded limits, including 1,747 that involved hazardous chemicals.

The research group aimed much of its criticism at the Ohio EPA, which enforces some federal environmental laws.

“We have an extremely weak enforcement process,” said Rose Garr, a research group field organizer in Ohio. “There are not enough environmental cops on the beat. It’s been cheaper to illegally dump and pay the penalty than clean up water in the first place.”

Garr added that Ohio has “an industrial history of this sort of stuff.” One of the key events that led to passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 was when the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire in 1969, she said.

State regulators challenged the report, which they still were reviewing.

“We don’t feel that the way they’ve used the data is an indication of how effective our environmental program is,” said Linda Oros, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA.

She said the state collected more than $3 million in fines for water violations last year. “So far this year, we’ve settled cases with several major cities that will result in $2 billion in upgraded waste water treatment facilities,” she said.

The U.S. EPA also challenged some aspects of the report. While the government evaluates compliance during a six-month period, the research group judged a facility to be over its limit if it went over in any given month, EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said.

“They make it sound worse than it is,” he said. A facility might go over its limit in one month as a result of storms or maintenance, for example, while balancing out the excess later in the six-month period, he said.

Only one company in Ohio made the research group’s list of the most “egregious” facilities in exceeding discharge limits
for cancer-causing chemicals. That was International Steel Group, the Cleveland-based steel company that replaced LTV Corp. The records used by the research group go back to when now defunct LTV still was running the steel mills.

In Dover, one of many cities listed in the report as having exceeded limits, an official expressed surprise.

The report said the Dover waste water treatment plant discharged more copper into the Tuscarawas River than allowed at some point before July 1999.

“We don’t even have limits on our permit” for copper, said Bill Craigo, Dover’s assistant waste water superintendent.  “As long as I’ve been here, I never remember being contacted by t he EPA that we were in violation of any limits.”

The research group is among several environmental groups that petitioned the U.S. EPA to revoke the state’s authority to enforce environmental laws.

Responding to that petition, the federal government began a review of Ohio’s environmental enforcement more than two years ago. In a preliminary report last year, the U.S. EPA urged the state to strengthen its enforcement of clean water regulations but did not find cause to revoke its enforcement authority. EPA officials expect to issue a final report soon.