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Ohio River Body Proposes Revised Pollution Control Plan

Ann Thompson
The 26-member ORSANCO Commission is preparing to hear from the public again after it voted to put forth a new proposal.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) is considering a new plan on water quality for the Ohio River, which is not as drastic as the first. Initially, the group had proposed eliminating pollution control standards and instead rely entirely on states to regulate discharges into the river.

At a meeting in Covington Thursday, commission members announced they will accept public comment on the revised plan over the next few months. The number of meetings and dates haven't been decided.

Critics of the previous plan,which would have reduced ORSANCO's oversight, were still digesting the new proposed plan but were not optimistic it would be strong enough to control pollution in the Ohio River.

Long-time activist Judy Petersen thanked the commission for "taking a step back." She said, "I hope you continue to hear from members of the public and to protect the Ohio River now and in the future."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Before the meeting started the room was filling up with people who wanted to speak. Nearly three dozen did.

Environmental attorney Megan Hunter worries having states do their own regulating will not keep the river clean. "We're dealing with that web of regulations across states along the Ohio River. It is complicated and there are holes, and people's lives fall through those holes."

Since the initial proposal was introduced in 2018, thousands of people have spoken out against it. The ORSANCO committee that drafted it asked for an extension. The re-written plan was introduced Thursday.

What Are The Differences Between Drafts?

"Instead of essentially eliminating the pollution control standards, this proposal maintains the pollution control standards and will ensure that the uses are protected that are outlined in ORSANCO's compact," ORSANCO Director Richard Harrison says. 

  • Maintains the pollution control standards for the Ohio River
  • Provides flexibility for member states to utilize the pollution control standards in their discharge permits
  • Maintains ORSANCO's role in water quality protection established in its Compact

Why Does The ORSANCO Board Want To Make Changes?

Last year in this story, Harrison explained it was 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?"

Sister Mary Joyce Moeller spoke at Thursday's hearing. She is concerned ORSANCO and the states it represents, along with the EPA are catering to big business. "I'm really discouraged with the number of permits that are given out by the EPA that allow industrial sites and businesses and coal companies to dump their pollution in the water." Moeller thinks the new plan is a re-hashed version of an older one.

After a public review of this new plan ORSANCO will take a vote on whether to accept it. A timetable is unclear.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.