Public Comments Stop Deregulation of the Ohio River’s Pollution Standards

This year, we nearly lost 70 years of rules that have successfully improved the health of the Ohio River. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, known as ORSANCO, cited redundancy with state and EPA regulations as cause to propose eliminating the Ohio River’s numeric criteria, designated uses, and public input process as part of the 2018 triennial review of the Pollution Control Standards.

An internal analysis of ORSANCO’s standards that was produced to inform the Commission on the proposed revisions revealed state water quality standards lacked 440 weak and missing numeric pollution criteria. Additional peer reviews of ORSANCO’s report identified significant inaccuracies in the comparisons between ORSANCO, EPA, and state standards provided to the Pollution Control Standards committee. The uncertainty in the remaining Ohio River protections meant any decision by ORSANCO to eliminate the Ohio River’s standards would be implemented without an accurate technical and regulatory determination of the potential impact on pollution discharge permits and water quality.  

The Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper, along with allies throughout the Ohio River basin, challenged ORSANCO’s proposal to eliminate the Ohio River’s pollution control standards through public input, media, and the Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee. Over 6000 public comments were submitted requesting ORSANCO maintain the Ohio River’s pollution standards including influential opposition conveyed by Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, and Louisville’s Waterfront Development Corporation.

Fortunately, the steady march to eliminate the Ohio River’s pollution standards has been paused. During ORSANCO’s October Commissioner meeting, the Pollution Control Standards committee did not provide a recommendation to the Commission from its 2018 standards review. Instead the committee requested more time to review comments, deliberate, and work with stakeholders to produce an acceptable recommendation to the Commission. The public input process was respected and ORSANCO’s Pollution Control Standards for the Ohio River remain in effect pending a future resolution by the Commission.

The Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper commends ORSANCO for listening to the overwhelming public outcry to maintain the most protective provisions of the Pollution Control Standards for the Ohio River. We look forward to further engagement with ORSANCO staff and commissioners to evaluate and enhance the administration and implementation of ORSANCO’s standards. We encourage community and business leaders to continue to speak out expressing concern with eliminating ORSANCO’s standards and emphasizing the benefits of a healthy Ohio River for your livelihood.