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The multi-state commission charged with ensuring that water in the Ohio River is safe for drinking, fishing and recreation is considering whether to eliminate its pollution control standards for the river. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, known as ORSANCO, is a compact between Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and other states along the river. 

The ORSANCO commissioners look at their water quality standards every three years. This year, they are considering whether to eliminate their pollution control standards for sewage and industrial waste altogether. According to ORSANCO director Richard Harrison, those water quality protections are already addressed by the U.S. EPA and ORSANCO’s member states through the Clean Water Act.

“So the Commission is looking through this review holistically to determine if this is still an effective use of ORSANCO’s resources, or is this largely redundant,” Harrison said.

ORSANCO has developed five alternatives to the current standards. A majority of commissioners favor the one that would eliminate their standards.

A minority of commissioners oppose this proposal, finding at least 188 instances where the ORSANCO has a regulation for the Ohio River, but the states and EPA do not.

LISTEN: “Ohio River Compact Considers Eliminating Pollution Controls”

John Stolz, Director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, thinks the proposal would eliminate ORSANCO’s cooperative mission, which keeps Ohio River states working toward a common goal.

“Any time you relieve yourself of your charge, you no longer become a viable entity,” he said.

The Ohio River is cleaner than it used to be, which to Stolz means the current regulatory system is working.

“It may sound harmless and saying, ‘Oh yeah, we can rely on someone else to do this.’ But then you’ve lost control,” he said. “It comes back to who is really responsible and how are these regulations, more importantly, going to be enforced?” 

Stolz, as well as some ORSANCO commissioners, are especially concerned about reducing the agency’s authority in the current anti-regulation climate in Washington.

The commissioners who want to eliminate their pollution standards have said that ORSANCO’s limited budget should be focused on water testing and spill detection, which are not covered by other agencies.

ORSANCO’s five proposals, including the favored alternative eliminating pollution control standards, are open for public comment until February 24th, 2018. 

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Photo (top): ORSANCO’s water quality standards are to protect drinking water, aquatic life and recreational opportunities in the Ohio River. Photo: Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting