The Ohio legislature, with the support of the state Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), has passed a bill mandating more predictable and uniform toxic emission standards and exempting small businesses from the most stringent pollution control standards reserved for large industry.
Strong Support Garnered
Senate Bill 265 passed on March 28 by a 26-7 vote. On March 29 the House approved its counterpart, H.B. 496, by an equally strong 66-29 vote. Gov. Bob Taft (R) signed the bill on May 2.
Under prior law, Ohio EPA issued emission permits on a case-by-case basis. As a result, businesses frequently had to wait a long time to receive permits, and they faced uncertain requirements until a permit was issued. Under the new law, Ohio EPA will be given three years to write uniform rules for the toxins it regulates.
Industry was seeking more predictable and streamlined permitting processes, state Sen. Robert Spada (R-North Royalton) told the Cleveland Plain Dealer for a March 29 story. “When we look back this will be the most important economic development bill we will have voted on in 2006,” said Spada.
“This is a solid piece of legislation that will bring new business to Ohio while protecting the environment,” agreed state Sen. Tom Niehaus (R-New Richmond).
Ohio EPA Supports Reform
Ohio EPA Director Joe Koncelik agreed a streamlined permitting process was needed, telling the April 26 Plain Dealer that a more efficient, predictable permitting process will enable Ohio to more effectively compete economically with neighboring states such as Michigan.
“In this case, changing some rules can help the environment and business,” observed Koncelik in an EPA press statement. “Complex, outdated or unpredictable rules can hamper Ohio EPA’s ability to achieve environmental goals. By making it easier for businesses to understand and follow our rules, Ohio EPA can do a better job protecting the environment and spend more time on the most serious problems.”
Minor Sources Unburdened
Just as importantly, the law will no longer require new businesses that release less than 10 tons of toxins per year–such as bakeries, dry cleaners, and printers–to install the best available emissions abatement equipment. These small businesses will be required to follow federal emission requirements but will no longer have to meet the tougher standards the state imposes on its largest industries.
“The bill will relax some requirements for these minor sources,” Koncelik noted. “I supported these changes because I believe Ohio over-regulates minor sources with little environmental benefit. We can be more effective in improving air quality by reducing emissions from significant sources of pollution. The legislation actually makes Ohio EPA’s authority over toxic emissions stronger, not weaker.
“The fact is Ohio’s air is much cleaner than in the past. Furthermore, even critics of the bill agree that air quality will continue to improve significantly under new programs Ohio is developing separate from this legislation,” added Koncelik. “Slightly higher emissions may result from these minor sources using good controls rather than the very best controls. This will be more than offset by strong future programs that will reduce emissions from more significant sources.”
Further Improvement Expected
“The fact that this bill had such overwhelming support in the Ohio legislature, as well as the wholehearted support of the state EPA, speaks volumes about the opportunities state legislatures have to safeguard our environment in a manner that does not gratuitously punish state economies,” observed Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.
“People often fall into the trap of believing that economic concerns and environmental concerns must always be at odd with each other,” Burnett explained. “Streamlining emissions permitting processes and deciding to focus pollution abatement efforts on the largest emitters rather than targeting mom-and-pop businesses are illustrations of this. Air quality, which is already undergoing steady long-term improvement, will get even better under these economy-friendly programs.”
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.