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Air Advisory Committee: Episodic Weather Regulation Ready to Go to Public Comment 

Allegheny County Health Department’s Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee on Monday unanimously voted to recommend that long-sought draft episodic weather regulations be approved for public comment.

GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini, who is a member of the committee, lauded the affirmative vote.

“This was a long time coming,” she said. “GASP is hopeful that these much-needed regulations will help stave off air pollution from industry sources when bad-air days happen – as they did just this past week.”

Monday’s meeting was the second time the episodic weather regulations were before the Air Advisory Committee: The group in February tabled the action item, punting the draft back to ACHD’s regulation subcommittee for more specificity. That subcommittee met late last month and determined that the language was ready for public comment.

 “I think you’re going to see it’s much-improved,” Regulation Subcommittee Chairman Bob Orchowski told fellow Air Advisory members before ACHDofficials presented the newest version of the regs.

Here’s what you need to know about the draft regulations:

The regulations would require the ACHD Air Quality Program to issue Mon Valley Air Pollution alerts. 

A “watch” would be issued when atmospheric conditions are expected to cause an exceedance of the national health-based standard for PM2.5 in any of the 32 municipalities in the affected area, with those conditions expected to last for another 24 hours. 

A “warning” will be issued once that standard has been exceeded and the weather forecast indicates that atmospheric conditions causing the exceedance are expected to persist for at least another 24 hours.

For their part, major and minor sources of fine particulate matter pollution like U.S. Steel will be required to create and submit to ACHD for approval a two-tiered action plan to be implemented when these watches and warnings are issued. 

The “watch” plan must include procedures that ensure the source is “operating in a manner consistent with good engineering and all air pollution control equipment is maintained in good working condition.”

During the warning phase, sources will be required to take certain actions to reduce their emissions. ACHD Air Quality Program officials said that could mean reducing transportation, switching or decreasing fuel use, delaying nonessential activities, or reducing, modifying or ceasing certain operations.

Next stop for the draft regulation? The Allegheny County Board of Health, which is expected to vote on the matter at its upcoming May 5. If the board votes to approve the regulations, they will be put out for public comment.

“GASP looks forward to reviewing the regulation when it finally gets approved for public comment,” Filippini said. “As ACHD noted, there have already been a string of bad-air days in the Mon Valley this spring. We have no time to waste with this.”

Filippini, however, cautioned that the real proof is going to be in the plans submitted by industry, how effective those plans are in reducing emissions, and how well they are enforced by the ACHD.  

“If the plans aren’t effective how quickly can they be modified so that reductions don’t have to wait?” she asked. “We still have substantial questions about the process.”

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  1. Gail Murray says:

    I’d like to know if other areas of Allegheny Co. will be included. What will happen if the Shell Polymer plant goes into operations next year?

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