Vote Delayed on New Allegheny County Air Toxics Guidelines

Sep 19, 2012

The Allegheny County Board of Health has postponed a vote on guidelines that would be used by the county to decide whether or not to give a permit to companies that will emit pollution into the air.  The guidelines were drafted by a task force comprised of industry representatives, academia, healthcare officials, community members, and environmental groups.  Several supporters urged the board to pass them at their Wednesday meeting, but at the request of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, that vote did not happen.

“He felt that we needed to have a broader consensus, and I can understand that position,” said board member Donald Burke, “so we agreed that we would postpone, we are committed to having a vote in November at the next meeting of the board, we are still incorporating some of the suggestions and hearing other opinions to achieve this broad consensus.”

Under the new guidelines, a company can increase emissions from one facility, as long as they offset them by reducing them at another, and they can choose which chemicals to reduce.  The Department of Health would have the discretion to deviate from the guidelines if it sees fit. Opponents of the guidelines fear lost jobs, but supporters say that’s unlikely. They point out these are guidelines and not regulations. In addition to public health there is another reason to adopt them.

“Our existing air toxic guidelines are badly out of date, having been adopted in 1988,” said Sharon Thompson, with United Steelworkers International, “Ben Roethlisberger had just completed kindergarten, gasoline sold for less than $1.00 a gallon and far less was known about toxic air pollutants than is known today.”

While supporters at the meeting were disappointed with the delay of a vote, some weren’t surprised. The board is now expected to vote at its November 7th meeting.