On April 5th, Ohio EPA Director Nally testified on the Agency’s proposed budget before the House Finance and Appropriations – Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. According to the Director’s Testimony, Ohio EPA is not asking for any fee increases. Ohio EPA’s proposed budget calls for a reduction of 11.8% for fiscal year 2012 and 13.8% for fiscal year 2013. To meet these budget reductions, the Agency is planning on reducing 53 current positions through attrition.
The Director also mentioned the consolidation of the Division of Hazardous Waste Management (DHWM) into the Division of Solid & Infectious Waste (DSIWM) along with other components in the Division of Emergency Remedial Response (DERR). DHWM’s permitting and inspection activities will be in DSIWM and clean up will be with DERR.
In addition to budget reductions and the consolidation of DHWM, Director Nally also hinted at other initiatives the Agency is planning to undertake in the near future.
New Ohio EPA Initiatives
“In-lieu Fee” Program – The Director signaled potential significant change on wetland and stream mitigation requirements. Typically the 404/401 permit applicant must find appropriate mitigation projects and include those proposals in their permit application. With an “in-lieu fee" program, the applicant is relieved of the burden of finding a mitigation project . Rather, the applicant pays a few based on the acreage of wetlands or feet of stream impacted by the project. The Director has recently announced a "listening session" to hear from the regulated community and others regarding the proposal.
Permitting efficiencies/Permitting Backlog – Most every Ohio EPA Director faces the pressure to get permits out the door faster. Director Nally is no different. Upon taking office, he announced this would be a top priority of his administration. His testimony suggests he will be re-looking at permit-by-rule and general permits to streamline permit approvals. While the Agency has utilized these tools in the past, business complain that the terms and requirements are too onerous. Modifying air permitting requirements can present unforeseen issues, as the business community learned after the Courts stepped in blocking major changes adopted in Senate Bill 265.
IT initiatives and Compliance Assistance – Ohio EPA has moved toward allowing more reports and permitting to be performed using the web or through special electronic systems. These systems provide flexibility, but businesses complain they can be difficult to use. The Director announced training sessions to assist businesses with understanding how to use these systems better.
Brownfields redevelopment – The Director testimony contained a vague reference to a new initiative with brownfield redevelopment. The current structure has the Ohio Dept. of Development passing out the grant money and Ohio EPA monitoring the clean up. It will be interesting to watch whether Ohio EPA announces new initiatives in this area to accelerate re-use of brownfields.
Marcellus and Utica Shale – ODNR has the lead with regard to permitting for gas exploration. However, U.S. EPA has indicated it will be closely watching and may exercise enforcement authority at sites where drilling has gone wrong or resulted in polluted groundwater. The Director intends to support ODNR’s efforts in light of U.S. EPA’s scrutiny.
Expedited Settlement Program (ESP) — No details were given regarding this new concept to accelerate resolution of enforcement actions. Here was the Director’s testimony…Given my priority of compliance first, I am initiating modifications to the current enforcement process to help drive quicker compliance. Historically, the existing enforcement options have been time consuming and resource intensive for both the agency and the regulated entity. By developing new steps to be used early in the enforcement process, I hope to resolve uncomplicated cases
expeditiously, putting a facility on notice of a problem, and quickly achieving compliance.
Perhaps Ohio EPA intends to make modifications at the Notice of Violation (NOV) stage. The Agency could improve tracking of NOVs and notify businesses more quickly when issues have been resolved.
The Director’s testimony did provide a good insight into his early priorities. Details were not provided so we will need to watch closely as they are released.