GASP Press Release April 13, 2009: Public Expresses Opposition to Proposed Article XXI Changes

CONTACT:

Joe Osborne
Group Against Smog and Pollution
work: 412-325-7382
cell: 617-909-8365
email: joe@gasp-pgh.org

PUBLIC EXPRESSES OPPOSITION TO PROPOSED ARTICLE XXI CHANGES

Tomorrow (Tuesday, April 14th) the Allegheny County Board of Health will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to Article XXI, the Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Regulations. One of the more controversial proposed changes would eliminate any requirement for the Board of Health to consult with the Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee prior to spending money in the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund. This proposal has attracted the attention of academics, environmental organizations, and members of the public.

“In addition to making it easier for the Board of Health to ignore expert opinion when making funding decisions, these proposed changes severely restrict opportunities for public involvement,” said Joe Osborne, Legal Director of Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) “This is particularly worrisome given the attempts in recent years to misuse Clean Air Funds to bankroll projects entirely unrelated to air quality.”

James Longhurst, an Assistant Professor of History at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, has spent the last ten years studying the history air pollution control policy in Pittsburgh. In written comments to the Board of Health Professor Longhurst described the proposed efforts to reduce the influence of the advisory committee as an “ill-advised, and a retrograde movement. Pittsburgh’s citizens have spent the last 50 years attempting to gain greater access to air pollution control policymaking, implementation and enforcement. The proposed changes to Article XXI would mark a step back from this long struggle. . . Sadly, five decades of citizen involvement would have to be ignored if these proposed changes were allowed to become a part of the county code. Allegheny County would have turned its back on the battles and accomplishments of its recent past, and would cede its place of leadership in exemplary citizen involvement.”

GASP, Sierra Club Allegheny Group, PennFuture, and Sustainable Pittsburgh are among the environmental organizations that expressed concern about the proposed changes.

In written comments to the Board of Health, Marilyn Skolnick, Co-Conservation Chair of the Sierra Club Allegheny Group, stated “This process has worked well for many years and our members do not see any reason for a change. . . As the saying goes, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’”

PennFuture Senior Attorney John K. Baillie writes that the proposed amendment to the Clean Air Fund disbursement procedure “removes some of the currently-existing checks and balances and opportunities for public comment in Article XXI that were designed to ensure that Clean Air Fund monies are disbursed wisely.”

“Eliminating the consultation requirement provides little, if any, benefit while creating the very real possibility that future Clean Air Fund disbursements will be subject to inadequate deliberation and opportunity for public scrutiny, and will fund projects that are ineffective, unwise, or inconsistent with the purpose of the fund.” Osborne stated.

THE BASICS:

The Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee is an appointed committee of air quality experts established to “recommend to the Board of Health additions and changes to this Article [Article XXI, the Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Regulations] and advise the Bureau of Environmental Quality and the Board of Health on matters relative to the control of air pollution which are brought to its attention by any person.” [Art. XXI §2101.07.c]

The Clean Air Fund was established “solely to support activities related to the improvement of air quality within Allegheny County and to support activities which will increase or improve knowledge concerning air pollution, its causes, its effects, and the control thereof” and is made up of fines and penalties collected from air pollution sources. [Art. XXI §2109.09.a]

The proposed change to Article XXI §2109.09.d would eliminate any requirement for the Board of Health to consult with the Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee prior to spending money in the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund.

As of Monday afternoon GASP is aware of nearly two dozen individuals who have written to the Board of Health expressing their concern about the proposed changes.

MORE INFORMATION:

ACHD notice of public hearing: http://www.achd.net/pr/pubs/2009Release/publichearingAIR.html

The proposed changes to Article XXI: http://www.achd.net/air/publichearing/SIPRev64.pdf

GASP’s written comments to the Board of Health: http://www.gasp-pgh.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/gasp-comments-proposed-art-xxi-changes.pdf

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Group Against Smog and Pollution, Inc. (GASP) is a non-profit citizens’ group working for a healthy, sustainable environment. Founded in 1969, GASP has served as a watchdog, educator, litigator, and policy-maker on many environmental issues, with a focus on air quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania.