A county audit has found that the Allegheny County Health Department’s overuse of negotiated settlements called consent decrees has failed to bring major industrial polluters into compliance with air pollution laws.
The review, which was conducted by the Allegheny County Controller, indicates that these agreements have allowed industry to pay to pollute instead of resulting in significant reductions in air pollution.
“This audit proves what we already know: The Allegheny County Health Department has created a situation where polluters see incremental fines as the cost of doing businesses,” said George Jugovic, chief counsel for PennFuture. “Polluters can pay these fines with ease, giving them little incentive to reduce the toxic emissions that are making people in our communities sick.”
Numerous studies have proven that air pollution is linked to a host of health issues, including cancer, asthma and heart disease. The American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report, which was released last month, found that air pollution continues to plague the Pittsburgh region, with the air among the unhealthiest in the region.
“Just a few weeks ago, new research came out that shows nearly 29 percent of fifth-graders in a Pittsburgh study have asthma, which is connected to air quality, said Thaddeus Popovich of Allegheny County Clean Air Now. “For the sake of our children, the Allegheny County Health Department needs to hold polluters accountable to the health of the communities they operate in.”
The audit notes that ACHD’s air quality program has likely used consent decrees rather than pursuing litigation, which could be more successful at reducing air pollution. The audit also found that for violations that have not been addressed in consent agreements, ACHD has not even imposed the maximum allowable fines on polluters.
"Companies that chronically violate air pollution laws should not just receive a slap on the wrist," said Rachel Filippini, Executive Director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution. “The penalties must be significant enough that companies realize correcting the problems and eliminating violations, which is best for the health of the community, is also best for the company's bottom line."
“The fact that industrial polluters in our communities are paying to pollute our air is disgraceful, said Adam Garber, field director for PennEnvironment. “And, the Allegheny County Health Department isn’t even imposing the maximum fines, giving polluters even less of a reason to reduce harmful emissions.”
NewsClips:Allegheny Audit: Consent Decrees Little Inducement To Cut Air Pollution