Representatives of three environmental groups are asking Gov. Ted Strickland to veto a provision in the state operating budget bill they claim hamstrings the work of the Environmental Review Appeals Commission.
Jack Shaner, Deputy Director of Ohio Environmental Council, Jennifer Miller, Program Coordinator of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club, and Amy Gomberg, Program Director of Environment Ohio, say in a letter to the governor the budget amendment was added by the legislature’s conference committee with no opportunity for public review.
The commission hears appeals of decisions made by the director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency regarding permits, licenses, or variances under the agency’s jurisdiction.
“Our second objection is that the amendment is inconsistent with federal regulations and will inevitably be litigated, forcing the state to spend money defending an indefensible position,” the letter says. “Federal Clean Air Act regulations specify that a facility must commence construction no later than 18 months after the permit’s effective date, regardless of whether preliminary contracts may have been signed in the interim period, and regardless of whether the permit has been appealed by a third party, unless the deadline is extended by the permitting agency.”
The three also claim a deadline mandate on ERAC is “totally and practically unworkable.”
“For a commission with 700 cases pending before it at a given moment to hold a hearing (which typically last between 4 days to 6 weeks) on each case, then produce detailed and defensible findings and orders (currently written orders range from 30 pages to 125 pages) with no staff to research and help draft the opinions (just the commissioners) in merely 12 months, is an impossible deadline,” the letter says. “The amendment fails to contemplate the high probability of extended discovery and other unforeseen delays.”
In addition, the amendment provides no explanation of what would happen if ERAC does not meet the new review deadline, the three environmentalists argue.
“Though we may not agree with all of the regulatory reforms that your administration has advocated, we have appreciated the transparency of those reforms. This amendment is a slap in the face at transparency, and does nothing to further regulatory efficiency,” they write.
The letter praises the Strickland administration and legislature for progress in some areas, including:
• Securing funding for protecting air and drinking water through an increase in disposal fees on municipal solid waste.
• A pilot project to convert part of the state vehicle fleet to propane fuel.
• Establishing a sustainable revenue stream for Ohio’s Scenic Rivers Program through an increase in canoe and kayak registration fees.
• Giving homeowners an option for low-cost financing of roof-top solar projects.