Industry wanted this Ohio River Commission to stop setting pollution standards. It almost gave in.

The commission was under pressure to drop its standard-setting authority and let each state act on its own. But what happens upstream affects everyone.

LOUISVILLE, KY — “Last summer, under pressure from industries and power utilities, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) had taken a preliminary vote to abandon its pollution control standards.

It changed course on Thursday, endorsing instead a compromise proposal that would give states more flexibility to decide whether or not use the standards, said commission member Tom FitzGerald, a Louisville environmental attorney. Under the compromise, the commission’s staff, which reviews all state water quality permits, would also make those reviews more rigorous, he said.

‘This is a workable approach’ that reflects a reality that some Ohio River states are already ignoring ORSANCO’s standards, while preserving the agency’s ability to set ‘gold standard’ guidance, FitzGerald said.

The river, which runs for 981 miles from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, where it joins the Mississippi River, is a drinking water source for about 5 million people and is increasingly a recreational resource.

It’s also still a heavily industrialized river, and industries including electric utilities had argued that ORSANCO standards were not needed because each state has its own standards and an obligation to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. Some of the states had also wanted ORSANCO to back off and focus only on research and monitoring.

Environmental advocates and drinking water utilities had urged the agency to not handcuff itself by getting out of the standard-setting business.”

— James Bruggers, Inside Climate News

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