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PA Could Affect Ohio River Commission Vote

ORSANCO has managed pollution controls on the entire Ohio River system since 1948. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
ORSANCO has managed pollution controls on the entire Ohio River system since 1948. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
October 1, 2018

PITTSBURGH – The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission will vote this week on a proposal that critics say would weaken environmental protections along the river.

The Ohio River is used heavily for transportation and recreation and is the source of drinking water for 5 million people.

Consisting of representatives of the eight watershed states and the federal government, the commission, known as ORSANCO, sets uniform pollution standards for the states along the river's 981-mile course to the Mississippi River.

But on Thursday the Commission will vote on a proposal to allow each of the states to set its own pollution standards.

According to Gail Hesse, director of the Great Lakes Water Program for the National Wildlife Federation, that could have a big impact on communities along the river.

"Pittsburgh in particular has invested an enormous amount of riverfront development for recreational purposes and it matters what flows through those areas," Hesse says.

Those favoring the proposed change say each of the states has its own water quality standards, making ORSANCO redundant.

But Hesse points out that unlike the states, ORSANCO is responsible for overseeing pollution controls for the entire river system, a kind of oversight that the proposal would bring to an end.

"Ohio could have one set of standards for its section of the river, but just across the river on the other side, Kentucky could have a completely different set of standards,” she points out. “And so, establishing a framework for inconsistency we believe is a bad idea."

Hesse adds that ORSANCO assists the member states, where environmental agencies are often understaffed, with assessing pollution risks and setting control standards.

And she contends that the potential impact of turning control of pollution permits over to the individual states has not been adequately studied.

"There has not been any analysis about what consequences might happen looking at the disparities across the states and what that might mean for permit limits, both existing and potential future permittees along the river," she states.

According to Hesse, uniform, shared standards are the most efficient, effective and fair way to manage the Ohio River.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA