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The Clean Air Council, a Pennsylvania-based environmental group, notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week that it intends to sue the agency, to force it to take action against the Allegheny County Health Department for delays on air pollution permits.

LISTEN: “Group Intends to Sue Over Chronic Delays in Pollution Permit Process”

The Health Department is in charge of issuing what are called Title V operating permits, which set how much air pollution big industrial facilities, like power plants and steel mills, can produce. Under the Clean Air Act, Title V permits should be renewed every five years, and the Health Department is supposed to have 18 months to process permit renewals. But Chris Ahlers, an attorney for the Clean Air Council, says the County has a chronic problem with delays in processing these types of applications.

“According to a spreadsheet of the 32 major sources posted on its website, some of these permits have been outstanding for a very long time,” Ahler says. “At least one as long as 20 years.” 

The process for a Title V permit renewal includes a public comment period and public hearing.

“Residents, communities and environmental organizations can review the application forms for these permits and evaluate whether they are in compliance with technical and legal requirements,” Ahlers says. “Every time you don’t have that five year renewal, you’re missing a very important part of the process, which is public participation.”

In October 2016, the Clean Air Council and other environmental groups petitioned the EPA to sanction the Health Department for the delays. According to Ahlers, “…that puts legal and political pressure on the department to make it more timely in processing these applications.”

Ahlers says the EPA did not respond to that petition, which is why his group filed notice this week to sue the agency. Neither the EPA nor the Health Department would comment for this story.

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