County to Keep Air Quality Enforcement Local

Article excerpt

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said Friday the county will keep its air quality program but he will seek less stringent local air pollution regulations, which he believes would make the area more attractive to industry.

The county might not be able to rewrite its rules, two officials cautioned.

Onorato's decision not to eliminate the program and instead to increase its staff by 11 positions ends six months of deliberations about whether to allow the state to handle pollution control and enforcement.

"I think, based on all the information that I received, that this was the best compromise," Onorato said. He said he met with health, business and environmental groups before making his decision.

Onorato said he would seek County Council approval to rewrite air pollution regulations so they mirror the state's less-strict law. He will ask the Health Department board to raise salaries for air quality workers.

But the county cannot lessen its air pollution controls, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"If the county Health Department decides that it wants to adopt DEP regulations, in all or in part, it has to go through a whole review process with the state and the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)," said DEP spokesman Neil Weaver.

"Their changes cannot be any less stringent than what they already have," he said.

Health Department Director Bruce Dixon said the county has rules regarding coke ovens and diesel idling that do not exist at the state level. Those would need to remain in place in order for the county to achieve federal clean air guidelines.

"It's a very complicated issue, and we can't say we'll just start over again," Dixon said, though he noted that most of the county's regulations could be adapted to the state law.

County Council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, and Michael Finnerty, a Scott Democrat who chairs council's Health and Human Services Committee, favor Onorato's proposal.

"It seems his goal is to strengthen the program locally, but basically replicate the state's efficiency," Fitzgerald said. "It certainly makes sense. We don't want to be economically uncompetitive but, by the same token, we don't want to have more polluting industries. …