Ohio River commission debates eliminating pollution standards

Published 7:45 am Monday, July 30, 2018

Waterway remains among the most-polluted rivers in the country

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — An interstate commission that monitors the Ohio River’s health is considering eliminating its pollution control standards, raising concerns among representatives from states including Indiana.

A majority of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission voted last month to advance the idea of dropping its pollution standards, opening the proposal to public comments, the Courier & Press reported.

The commission oversees an agreement between eight states with watersheds draining into the river, with commissioners appointed by each state and the federal government. The Ohio River touches on six states along its 981-mile (1,578-kilometer) course, including Indiana and Kentucky, and has consistently topped lists of the country’s most-polluted waterways despite decades of cleanup and increased regulation.

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States are required to maintain water quality standards that meet minimum Clean Water Act standards. The commission’s proposal argued that states are already effectively applying such criteria and don’t need the commission’s input.

Some representatives are concerned the move would lead to a patchwork of confusing state regulations governing pollution discharges into the river.

“To say the standards should be removed because all of the states are enacting them already, that is simply not the case,” said Tom FitzGerald, a federally appointed commissioner who voted against the proposal. “While it has improved significantly, these standards still have value.”

Jason Flickner, director of the new Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper group in Indiana, questioned the timing of the proposal. The group formed to champion water quality in the watersheds draining into the Ohio between the Kentucky and Wabash rivers.

“ORSANCO’s proposal comes as rules designed to protect human health and the environment are being weakened across the country,” he said.

The commission held a public hearing on the proposal Friday.

Commission Director Richard Harrison stressed that the pollution control standards are not dropped yet.

“There has been no decision made,” he said. “The earliest it would be voted on is Oct. 4, when the commission meets in Lansing, West Virginia.”