Policy Memo on Pollution in the Ohio River Valley

Memorandum

To: Michael Doyle Jr., Mike Kelly, Glenn Thompson, Bill Shuster, Keith Rothfus, Conor Lamb

From: Artem Khrapko, Jake Perron & Sam Messick

Re: Ohio River Valley Water Pollution

Date: 04/22/2018

Summary:

        Blaine Martin, a new resident of Pittsburgh’s neighborhood of Morningside, claimed that his enthusiasm for the city of Pittsburgh declined due to an industrial sulfur stench that has allegedly brought back his wife’s asthma. This sulfur stench is most likely caused by the Clairton Coke Works 6,700 hydrogen sulfide violations over the past three and a half years.[1] While the presence of hydrogen sulfide has negative effects for air pollution, is has significantly detrimental consequences in regard to water quality. Clean water is a basic human right that has been deprived from some residents of the Ohio River Valley for the past several decades. According to Toxic Release Inventory Data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio river has been the most polluted river in the U.S. for seven straight years.i The consequences of waste discharges by industries have had a significant effect on the well-being of the people of Pennsylvania and the Ohio River Valley. Current regulations, enforced by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) and mandated in the Clean Water Act of 1972, lack necessary qualities to effectively limit water pollution at the federal and state levels. It would be wise for state legislators in the Ohio River Valley to pass adequate laws and regulations limiting water pollution in the area and promoting waste management and financial liability in order to maintain water basic water quality standards. We propose a series of options that will adequately regulate and enforce clean water standards in the Ohio River Valley by creating a tax credit plan for substantial water polluters, reducing nitrate emissions, and supporting heavier state enforcement of EPA regulations.

Problem Analysis:

1. Inadequate Regulations

According to Toxic Release Inventory data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio River has been the most polluted river in the U.S. for seven straight years.i Erika Staff, of Penn Environment, states that 49,000 miles of streams and the drinking water for 8 million Pennsylvanians remains at risk.[2] The accumulation of toxic waste in the river has resulted in numerous problems, such as the contamination of fish tissue, toxic algae blooms, and the spread of certain organic compounds that increase the risk of cancer.[3]

In 2010, ORSANCO commissioners adopted a variance rule allowing states to pollute more toxins into the river.[4] This loophole allows for the perpetuation of water pollution and undermines the financial incentives for polluters to seek the best possible technology as legislated in the Clean Water Act. The variance rule is an example of a current regulation which fails to meet equitable water quality standards that alleviate the risks posed by pollution. There is a need for adequate and equitable water pollution regulations for the Ohio River Valley that effectively account for threats posed by pollutants. Such regulation should include financial incentives that promote technological innovation and ensure that the negative externalities of pollution are considered.

2. Inadequate Enforcement

ORSANCO and other enforcement agencies have been unable to enforce violations of water pollution regulations. ORSANCO recently discovered that mercury discharges in the river are rapidly increasing, “up more than 500 percent, from 61 pounds in 2007 to 380 pounds in 2013.”[5] This increase in pollutants emphasizes the lack of enforcement or punishment for those who have violated regulations. In 2003, ORSANCO adopted rules calling for the elimination of mixing zones for mercury and other bio-accumulating pollutants by 2013. However, the ban is still being formalized as the agency has called for extensions to the compliance period, since polluters have failed to adhere to the ban.[6] The lack of effective enforcement creates further financial problems as increased levels of mercury and other bio-accumulative chemicals in the river could enormously escalate water treatment costs, especially for smaller cities in the rural portions of the state.[7] These examples show the growing consequences of ineffective enforcement of water pollution, which affect the health and financial stability for those in the Ohio River Valley. Recently the commission has considered eliminating its pollution control standards, stating that these standards are an ineffective use of ORSANCO resources.[8] Eliminating these standards would leave the commission without the ability to enforce pollution violations at the state level, leaving enforcement to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is already financially strained under the Trump administration.

Policy Solutions

While the Ohio River pollution has been difficult to control thus far, we have analyzed various solutions in order to provide a recommendation that will change the course of the river’s future. Appendix 1 shows the analysis of each policy proposal. Possible solutions include a tax policy that credits businesses for adopting internal policies that reduce pollutant emissions, creating and enforcing stricter nitrate regulations, and stricter EPA regulation enforcement through the government. A status quo option, or inaction, has been included for comparison purposes. Each proposed solution has been analyzed with five categories of benefits of the proposed change. The categories are pollutant reduction, cost effectiveness to the state, bipartisan agreement, public support, and promoting usage of the best available technology.

The solutions were graded in each category with a rating, 1-3, with 1 being the least effective in that category, and 3 being the most effective. Additionally, each category was weighted based on two criteria; how it impacts environmental change (more weight indicates a category is more impactful), and to what extent it’s relevant to public support for a policy maker. Pollutant reduction and public support were both weighted as 30% of the final score; these categories will impact environmental change and public opinion of the policy maker. Cost effectiveness was also weighted 20%, as it can impact the feasibility and therefore influence support for the motion. The categories for bipartisan agreement and technology use each comprised 10% of the final score.  We discuss how each solution is scored and which policy would be the most effective below.

  1. Tax credit plan

According to our analysis, this plan would be the most effective. In our weighted mean, the tax credit plan provided the highest average score, not scoring a 1 in any category. Since it is an optional incentive program some organizations may choose not to participate, but it is likely that businesses will take advantage of a plan that’s beneficial to their profits. This policy would garner support from the bipartisan public; although some may claim this program isn’t effective enough since it fails to enforce accountability for pollution. However, the policy could garner support from both those that are focused on a cleaner environment, as well as those that oppose regulatory standards due to their economic impact.

  1. Nitrate reduction plan

This plan would be effective, second only to the tax credit plan. Nitrates are a significant source of pollution in the Ohio River, and this plan would benefit cleanup efforts targeting nitrates specifically. Under this policy, the state government would monitor, regulate, and enforce policy that significantly reduces nitrate pollution output from businesses within the area of impact on the Ohio River. However, while this plan scored a 2 or 3 in four of the categories, the brunt of expenses would fall to the government, and eventually the taxpayers, which could negatively affect public opinion of the policy and policy-maker.

  1. Heavier state enforcement of EPA regulations plan

While stricter enforcement of EPA regulations by the local government could certainly be effective at reducing pollutants, it may come at the cost of public support and relatively large amounts of taxpayer money. Even though the state could enforce the use of the best available technology for limiting emissions, the plan could be attacked for the cost of enforcement, as well as state involvement in a federal matter, since the EPA is a federal agency. As a result, this plan scored a 1 for both cost effectiveness and public support.

  1. Status quo

While inaction may be the cheap and easy option now, it comes at the expense of the environment, as well as public support. Already, the deteriorating water quality has caused outcry among the public. Further ignoring the problem will cause blame to shift to policy makers, and as a result this plan scored a 1 in every category except cost effectiveness. Additionally, though it may cost nothing to ignore the issue now, it’s possible that in the future health problems and property damage could result in heavy expenses to the state, resulting in this plan scoring a 2 instead of a 3 in cost-effectiveness.

According to the criteria provided, the best solution would be to provide tax credits for businesses based on standards of emission and use of the best technology available; businesses that use the best available technology to reduce pollutant emissions the most will receive larger tax breaks. Additionally, this policy would require businesses to self-report their emissions, and since it benefits the business to reduce pollutants, the need for regulation enforcement is drastically decreased.

 

Conclusion

These policies could collectively become part of a comprehensive plan for mitigating water pollution in the Ohio River Valley and investing in a sustainable future. As pollution has increased in the Ohio River Valley in the past few decades, ineffective regulation and enforcement has allowed for the continued contamination of the Ohio River and its tributaries, threatening over 8 million Pennsylvanian citizens. The plans discussed in this memorandum present an opportunity for valuable policy change that will benefit the state of Pennsylvania. First, the tax credit plan will incentivize businesses to voluntarily reduce pollution through meeting equitable reduction goals. Secondly, through monitoring nitrate production, the government of Pennsylvania could effectively regulate and reduce nitrate pollution within the Ohio River Valley. Finally, the state government of Pennsylvania could strictly enforce the Environmental Protection Agency’s water pollution regulations, fixing the incompetence of the ORSANCO’s inability to prosecute pollution violations. These plans present several opportunities that can benefit the health and well-being of Pennsylvanian citizens.

Policy Proposal Evaluation Analysis

Reduces pollutants Cost effective Bipartisan Agreeability Public Support Maximization of available technology Point totals
Criteria weight 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.3 0.1
1: Tax credit plan 2 2 2 2 3 2.1
2: Nitrate regulations 2 1 2 2 3 1.9
3: Heavier state enforcement 2 1 1 1 2 1.4
4: Status quo (control) 1 2 1 1 1 1.2
Appendix 1: Analysis chart of proposed policy solutions; each criterion is weighted according to how it impacts environmental change and to what extent it’s relevant to public support for a policy maker. A 3 indicates that the plan is more effective in that category. A 1 indicates that it’s less effective in that category.

On my honor I have neither given nor received unauthorized information regarding this work, I have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and I am unaware of any violation of the Honor Code by others.

References

Bruggers, James “Ohio River Again Tops List for Industrial Pollution.” USA Today, March 14, 2015. Accessed February 9, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/03/14/ohio-river-tops-list-industrial-pollution/24784863/.

Collins, Emily A. “New Withdrawals, New Impairments as Pennsylvania Develops the Marcellus Shale.” SSRN Electronic Journal (May 2010). Accessed March 1, 2018. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1699731.

Demissie, Yonas, Eugene Yan, and May Wu. “Hydrologic and Water Quality Impacts of Biofuel Feedstock Production in the Ohio River Basin.” GCB Bioenergy 9, no. 12 (December 2017): 1736–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcbb.12466.

“Environmental Law & Policy Center.” Environmental Law & Policy Center. http://elpc.org/ (March 26, 2018).

Grant, Julie. 2018. “Ohio River Compact Considers Eliminating Pollution Standards.” The Allegheny Front. https://www.alleghenyfront.org/ohio-river-compact-considers-eliminating-pollution-standards/ (March 26, 2018).

Gundersen, Deke T., Ruthellen Miller, Amy Mischler, Krista Elpers, Steve D. Mims, Jody G. Millar, and Vicki Blazer. 2009. “Biomarker response and health of polychlorinated biphenyl‐and chlordane‐contaminated paddlefish from the Ohio River Basin, USA.” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 19, no. 9. November 2, 2009.

https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/etc.5620190918

Holsopple, Kara. “What You Need to Know About ‘Legacy Pollution’ in the Ohio River.” The Allegheny Front, December 2, 2016. https://www.alleghenyfront.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-legacy-pollution-in-the-ohio-river/

Hopey, Don “Region’s Rivers Are Some of Nation’s Most Polluted.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 23, 2012. Accessed February 9, 2018. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/nation/2012/03/23/Region-s-rivers-are-some-of-nation-s-most-polluted/stories/201203230179

Hopey, Don. “Environmental Groups Urge Tougher Rules Enforcement on Clairton Coke Works.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 1, 2017. Accessed February 9, 2018. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/environment/2017/11/01/Coke-works-stinks-Clairton-GASP-PennFuture-health-department/stories/201711010249.

Kowalski, Kathiann. “Agency Considers Further Delay on Ohio River Mercury Rule.” Midwest Energy News. http://midwestenergynews.com/2015/08/10/water-is-now-focus-for-mercury-power-plant-pollution/ (March 26, 2018)

Miltner, Robert J. “Eutrophication Endpoints for Large Rivers in Ohio, USA.” Environmental Monitoring and Assessment : An International Journal Devoted to Progress in the Use of Monitoring Data in Assessing Environmental Risks to Man and the Environment 190, no. 2 (201802): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-017-6422-4.

Tabuchi, Hiroko. “Floods Are Getting Worse, and 2,500 Chemical Sites Lie in the Water’s Path.” The New York Times, February 6, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/06/climate/flood-toxic-chemicals.html.

Tennant, P. A., C. G. Norman, and A. H. Vicory. “The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission’s Toxic Substances Control Program for the Ohio River.” Water Science and Technology; London 26, no. 7–8 (October 1992): 1779–88.

Tong, Susanna T.y., and Wenli Chen. “Modeling the relationship between land use and surface water quality.” Journal of Environmental Management 66, no. 4 (December 2002): 377-93. Accessed March 1, 2018. doi:10.1006/jema.2002.0593.

“Water Quality Protection.” Ohio River Foundation. http://www.ohioriverfdn.org/stewardship/water_quality_protection/ (March 26, 2018).

Yatavelli, Reddy LN, Jason K. Fahrni, Myoungwoo Kim, Kevin C. Crist, Christopher D. Vickers, Stephen E. Winter, and Daniel P. Connell. “Mercury, PM2. 5 and gaseous co-pollutants in the Ohio River Valley region: Preliminary results from the Athens supersite.” Atmospheric environment 40, no. 34 (2006): 6650-6665.

  1. Hopey, Don. “Environmental Groups Urge Tougher Rules Enforcement on Clairton Coke Works.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 1, 2017. Accessed February 9, 2018. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/environment/2017/11/01/Coke-works-stinks-Clairton-GASP-PennFuture-health-department/stories/201711010249.
  2. Hopey, Don “Region’s Rivers Are Some of Nation’s Most Polluted.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 23, 2012. Accessed February 9, 2018. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/nation/2012/03/23/Region-s-rivers-are-some-of-nation-s-most-polluted/stories/201203230179
  3. Hopey, Don. “Environmental Groups Urge Tougher Rules Enforcement on Clairton Coke Works.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 1, 2017. Accessed February 9, 2018. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/environment/2017/11/01/Coke-works-stinks-Clairton-GASP-PennFuture-health-department/stories/201711010249.
  4. “Water Quality Protection.” Ohio River Foundation. http://www.ohioriverfdn.org/stewardship/water_quality_protection/ (March 26, 2018).
  5. Bruggers, James “Ohio River Again Tops List for Industrial Pollution.” USA Today, March 14, 2015. Accessed February 9, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/03/14/ohio-river-tops-list-industrial-pollution/24784863/.
  6. Kowalski, Kathiann. “Agency Considers Further Delay on Ohio River Mercury Rule.” Midwest Energy News. http://midwestenergynews.com/2015/08/10/water-is-now-focus-for-mercury-power-plant-pollution/ (March 26, 2018).
  7. Holsopple, Kara. “What You Need to Know About ‘Legacy Pollution’ in the Ohio River.” The Allegheny Front, December 2, 2016. https://www.alleghenyfront.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-legacy-pollution-in-the-ohio-river/
  8. Grant, Julie. 2018. “Ohio River Compact Considers Eliminating Pollution Standards.” The Allegheny Front. https://www.alleghenyfront.org/ohio-river-compact-considers-eliminating-pollution-standards/ (March 26, 2018).
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About Artem Khrapko

I am an economics major at Davidson College and have an interest in pursuing environmental policy research and law.

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