Businesses seek delay in Allegheny County pollution guidelines

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Thirteen companies and business organizations say a long-delayed proposal to strengthen Allegheny County's 24-year-old guidelines for controlling air toxics emissions will create big regulatory burdens and do little to improve air quality and public health.

Those corporations and industry groups urged the Allegheny County Board of Health to reject the proposal or delay its consideration by nine months or more to allow for additional reviews, rewrites and cost benefit studies, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review of 226 written comments submitted to the board last month about the proposal.

The board of health is scheduled to consider the air toxics guidelines proposal at its meeting Sept. 19.

More than 200 of the submissions during the public comment period that ended Aug. 13 are from individuals and environmental organizations that urged quick approval of the proposal.

There were far fewer comments opposing the guidelines, but they came from prominent companies and business-oriented organizations, including EQT, Eastman Chemical Resins Inc., the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the Pennsylvania Business Council, the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council and the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Two companies that submitted comment letters opposing the proposal -- U.S. Steel and PPG Industries -- were part of the 22-member Air Toxics Guidelines Task Force that met for two years before drafting the air toxics proposal and unanimously recommending its approval.

The proposed guidelines would replace the county's 1988 toxics guidelines that are unworkable, contain no exposure limits and have never been updated to reflect new chemical emissions or toxicity determinations. Efforts to update the guidelines began seven years ago.

In its three-page comment letter signed by David Smiga, assistant general counsel, U.S. Steel notes that it "questions the necessity of updating the policy, as it is a policy that could lead to an adverse economic impact to Allegheny County because it increases the regulatory burden of sources ..."

Mr. Smiga could not be reached for comment on the different positions the company took on the proposal.

The Health Department would use the new guidelines to evaluate health impacts of toxic emissions from new or significantly modified industrial sources in the county. Although the proposed guidelines would not apply to existing sources, their emissions would be used to calculate the cumulative emissions of air toxics.

Hazardous air pollutants or air toxics can cause cancer or other serious health problems, including reproductive problems, birth defects, respiratory illnesses or neurological problems.

The two-page comment letter signed by Diane Kappas, PPG environment, health and safety vice president, acknowledges the company's participation in the task force, but says a "lack of clarity" in the proposal would cause "significant confusion and friction" among industry, regulators and public interest groups, and would hurt the company's ability to expand production and jobs in the county.

The PPG letter goes on to request that the proposed guidelines be withdrawn "until the county can better define an effective implementation process."

Dennis Yablonsky, chief executive officer of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said last week that the toxics proposal raised concerns among many of the conference's member companies that have the "potential to be affected by it."

The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce's written comments signed by Barbara McNees, chamber president, say the proposed guidelines are "vague and ambiguous," an example of "regulatory overreach," and "legally flawed."

The Pennsylvania Business Council and the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council voiced similar concerns, and letters from several industry attorneys also questioned the legality of the guidelines as proposed.

The comment letter from Frederick Mullner, Eastman's senior environmental coordinator, claims the proposed county guidelines would create significant and burdensome compliance issues while at the same time being less stringent than existing federal toxics standards.

EQT asked the Board of Health to reopen the public comment period to allow move time for industry to evaluate and comment on the proposal.

Many pro-guidelines comments were personalized variations of a formula email.

Lenore Melmeyer, of Upper St. Clair, for example, wrote that the existing guidelines from 1988 do not allow the county to use "up-to-date science and health standards" when issuing industrial operating permits.

Ted Popovich, of Ben Avon, wrote that he can't believe the debate over new air toxics guidelines is "dragging on" and that the "health of our citizenry is held in such low esteem."

"I have been told that I am foolish for believing that ordinary citizens can have the same influence as industry in this county," he said. "Please do not delay any longer! Please show that citizens have a voice."

region - environment

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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