A multi-state commission charged with protecting the Ohio River decided Thursday to postpone a decision to dramatically alter pollution controls.
The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, or ORSANCO, has been considering a proposal that would reduce its oversight of water pollution control standards along the Ohio River. The proposal, called "option 2" would eliminate the body's water pollution control standards for industrial and municipal wastewater discharges into the river.
The eight state body was created before the passage of the Clean Water Act, with a mission to collaboratively protect the river and set limits on industrial pollution through water quality standards. ORSANCO Director Richard Harrison said the new proposal is about balancing where to put the body's limited resources.
"This review was really about determining what is the proper role for ORSANCO going forward," he said. "Is it in pollution control standards? Or is it in other areas such as scientific research."
The commission argues that water pollution control standards set by member states will protect water quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will provide adequate oversight.
"The pollution control standards of the commission actually represent a third layer of standards for the Ohio River," Harrison said. "Each member state has criteria and it's actually the member states that implement standards through their permitting program.”
The commission was expected to vote Thursday on the proposal, but the committee tasked with making recommendations to the commission said it needed more time. Harrison said thousands of people have weighed in on the proposal.
"Really the amount of comment is the reason the committee is taking some more time to deliberate and really make sure we continue our thorough review," he added.
Conservation groups cheered the decision. Robin Blakeman, with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said the proposal, if passed as is, will diminish the river's water quality. That could affect ecosystems and jeopardize the river, which is a source of drinking water for 5 million people.
"Essentially they backed away from making a decision at this meeting and they say they're going to engage in further dialogue with those of us in the environmental communities," she said. "So, we're very glad for that."
ORSANCO is next scheduled to meet in February in Covington, KY. Harrison said the committee could provide a recommendation at any time, and at this time there are no additional public hearings on the proposal scheduled.