Year in Review

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Over the 2003 Landscape with GASP

Hotline, Winter 2004

by Suzanne Seppi, GASP Executive Director

Rough Travel

1. Throughout 2003 many organizations with environmental concerns were dismayed, if not aghast, over environmental policies in the Bush administration. Ron Cohen, a columnist for Gannett News Service, summed it up well when he wrote, “Well, we suspected George W. Bush was not exactly going to be a tree-hugger. But a tree-mugger?” The League of Conservation Voters gave President Bush an “F” on their 2003 Report Card on the administration’s environmental performance.

Rollbacks and weakened regulations were at least monthly occurrences, prompting citizens and environmental groups to respond with a flurry of letters, phone calls and protests. Topics ranged from a proposed retreat on mercury control to a draft policy to allow partially treated sewage to be “blended” with treated sewage and discharged into the nation’s waterways during heavy rain and flood events. In 2003, GASP took to the courts on two Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions that would affect our air. Both issues related to a part of the Clean Air Act known as New Source Review (NSR).

GASP and several other environmental groups, assisted by legal counsel from Clean Air Task Force, contested EPA’s two NSR rulings. In its former interpretation in the Clean Air Act, the NSR section generally required large industrial facilities to install modern pollution controls when the companies made significant upgrades and also increased emissions. By our analysis, the revised rules made it easier for these industrial facilities to upgrade without installing pollution controls. GASP was not alone in these legal actions. Pennsylvania and a number of other states and cities took their own similar legal initiatives.

The good news is that on December 24, 2003, the Court of Appeals for the Washington DC Circuit issued a stay of the Bush Administration’s latest NSR revised rule. Citing the irreparable damage the change would cause and the likelihood that environmental organizations and states challenging the changes would prevail in court, the court blocked the rule from being implemented until the case is decided.

The bad news is that the EPA announced they would not be seeking to enforce the Clean Air Act against companies that had violated the NSR program prior to the Administration’s NSR changes. The Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance resigned shortly thereafter. Two top career enforcement officials also retired, expressing criticism for the administration’s reluctance to enforce environmental laws. As we go to press, it appears the EPA has reversed the above decision until this case is settled!

2. In 2003, GASP and the Sierra Club settled an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for the ozone standard. EPA redesignated the Pittsburgh region from “moderate nonattainment” to “attainment” with respect to the 1-hour ozone standard. In so doing, several additional requirements for reducing ozone were added to the region’s maintenance plan in the event this area should have a violation of the 1-hour ozone standard at the same monitor.

3. Finally, in April, GASP issued a 60-day Notice of Intent to initiate a legal action against Orion Power MidWest L.P., the owner of the Cheswick power station on the basis of violations of the Allegheny County opacity standard with respect to smoke emissions. Since then, we have been in negotiations concerning this issue and hope to reach an agreement with the company shortly. The agreement will require better performance of the facility’s precipitator, resulting in fewer opacity violations (dark smoke). GASP has been represented in this effort by former GASP Advisory Committee member, Anthony Picadio, and Tom Buchele of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh.

In the school yard

GASP had County Council proclaim May 6, 2003, as “Stop School Bus Idling” Day. This coincided with World Asthma Awareness Day. GASP sent sample anti-idling policy guides and a diesel fact sheet to 300 schools in Allegheny County to promote awareness of the health effects of diesel exhaust, especially as it relates to children. Diesel emissions are the number one air toxics cancer risk in the United States and are also associated with asthma attacks and other health problems.

Working together with County Councilman Rich Fitzgerald, GASP and other stakeholders met with County Council at several meetings, and in August County Council passed an anti-idling ordinance unanimously. This ordinance is now being further developed at the Allegheny County Board of Health (see our update on page 3, “Anti-Idling Ordinance Moving Forward”).

Driving through the neighborhood

While there are existing federal regulations to require cleaner large, heavy duty diesel engines to be phased in during 2007-2010, and cleaner fuel required to be available in 2006, a large fleet of dirtier diesel vehicles will exist for many years. To address that problem, GASP made a request to ACHD Director Dr. Bruce Dixon to use funds from the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund to do a demonstration retrofit of a school district’s buses with tailpipe equipment that would reduce emissions. Happily, this was just recently approved by the Allegheny County Board of Health (see front page article, “Breathing Easier in the Penn Hills School District”).

What am I breathing?

Now in its seventh year, the GASPer program continues to provide air monitoring equipment and training to about a dozen schools annually for air quality investigations by teachers and students. The year of activity is capped by an Air Congress, where students attend workshops and share their most interesting investigations. This year, we began more work with community members to do monitoring of community air quality conditions. This program is implemented by GASP Education Coordinator, Rachel Filippini. This year’s Air Congress will be on Thursday, May 6, 2004 at Carnegie Mellon University.

Down the beaten path

Title V Permits GASP continues our citizen program to analyze major pollution source air permits known as Title V Permits. GASP has instructional material as well as consultant reports on about ten major facility applications. We welcome any interested citizen to let us know if there is a large facility near you that you would like to follow as its Title V Permit is issued. We can keep you up to date and offer instructional guides.

Citizen Smoke Readers GASP runs a continuing Smoke Readers Program in which individuals monitor opacity from smokestacks. Smoke opacity above certain levels is considered a violation. Our smoke readers are trained and report apparent exceedances to GASP. The GASP staff reports that information to the company and the Allegheny County Health Department. Inspectors from the Health Department should then make their own timely observations at the facility. GASP smoke readers reported several exceedances in 2003, taking photographs as additional information.

GASP Annual Event Each fall, GASP members and guests enjoy a special evening which includes good food, education on environmental topics, and test drives in vehicles that are cleaner and greener. This year, we were especially excited to have presentations by Dr. Devra Davis, author of When Smoke Ran Like Water, as well as PA DEP Deputy Secretary of Air, Recycling and Radiation, Nicholas DiPasquale.

GASP will continue to work in coalition with other organizations and citizens on a variety of topics, such as the proposed “Hays Hilltop” development, which would involve an extensive coal mining operation and ultimately a proposed racetrack and housing development.

Around the Bend

As we move into 2004, we are already engaged in some new endeavors. There will be an emphasis on community monitoring and education on diesel emissions. We hope to raise awareness and compliance with what should soon be a county-wide anti-idling regulation, and to assist with additional diesel fleet retrofit programs in Allegheny County and perhaps statewide. As the anti-idling ordinance is translated into regulation by the Board of Health for school buses, there should be upcoming anti-idling regulations for larger trucks, public buses and trains.

Thanks to all of our members for your participation and support. GASP looks forward to an exciting year and will be working hard to make this region’s environment the healthy area we all deserve. Join us in whatever way you can — volunteering, giving financial support, writing articles, attending meetings or giving us your community/environmental views. GASP is its members!