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West Virginia Catastrophe Heightens Concerns About Ohio EPA

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At least 14 lapsed permits, controversial departures at Ohio Environmental Protection Agency raise questions about protection of Ohio’s waterways
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Bob Shields 440-554-6883, sierraboboh@gmail.com

Cincinnati, OH - Today, the Sierra Club raised questions as to how prepared the Ohio EPA is to protect the state’s waterways. The City of Cincinnati shut its water intake valves on the Ohio river yesterday to protect its citizens from a spill of the toxic chemical MCHM, a chemical used to process coal, as it came down the Ohio river from a spill site in West Virginia. The spill originated at a Freedom Industries chemical storage facility in Charleston that had not been investigated by state officials in more than two decades. Given recent turnover and lapsed coal permits at the Ohio EPA, the spill heightens the importance of recent questions raised by the Sierra Club to Governor Kasich as to what degree the state of Ohio is prepared to enforce existing clean water regulations.


“The Sierra Club has a lot of questions about what steps Ohio is taking to protect our waterways, but so far we haven’t received any answers,” said Bob Shields, Chair of the Ohio Sierra Club. “The coal-processing site in West Virginia where the spill originated hadn’t been investigated by state officials in over 20 years. Here in Ohio, we know we have at least 14 expired water permits related to coal dating back to 2005. Gov. Kasich was recently accused of forcing the resignation of the EPA’s water division chief in Ohio, and last week the head of the agency resigned without explanation. We need to know what steps Ohio is taking to ensure that our state’s clean water regulations are enforced, but so far, the governor’s office has not been able to provide answers.”


Last Friday, the Ohio Sierra Club sent a letter to the Governor asking for transparency on the recent resignations.


Public records show that at least 14 coal-related permits in Ohio have expired since 2005, but those facilities are still operating. These permits are designed to enforce the regulation of the dangerous water runoff from various aspects of coal mining and preparation for electricity production.  Water pollution that violates these federal standards pose a threat to Ohio’s waterways and human health.


“What we are asking for is transparency,” said Shields. “What role has our Governor played in the recent events at the Ohio EPA, and why?  Why are regulators being pushed out of the state EPA and permits being allowed to lapse? Do we have a leader who is prepared to protect our waterways? This spill underscores the need for a strong state EPA, but recent events lead us to believe that we have anything but that.”


In September, Ohio EPA water chief George Elmaraghy was asked to resign, and he said it was due to pressure from the coal industry to have more leniency at the agency. Last week, Ohio EPA head Scott Nally resigned without explanation, and was replaced by long-time Kasich advisor Craig Butler.



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