Onorato explores shifting postwar era agency’s duties to state; environmental groups worry that standards will be weakened

County Chief Executive Dan Onorato is quietly considering whether to do away with the Health Department program that has written and enforced some of the toughest air pollution control regulations in the nation.

The county Air Quality Program — whose origins date to just after World War II, when Pittsburgh was widely known as the “Smoky City” — has been criticized by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, U.S. Steel Corp. and others for failing to process air pollution permits quickly enough and for driving business away from the county.

But Air Quality Program officials deny that allegation, and some environmental groups are worried that shutting it down and handing its duties to the state will reduce air monitoring, roll back regulations, decrease public access to regulators and lead to a general degradation of air quality.

Mr. Onorato has approached the state Department of Environmental Protection about its taking over the program’s planning, permitting, monitoring and enforcement duties. He also mentioned the idea in a private meeting with state legislators in Harrisburg several months ago.

A spokesman for Mr. Onorato, Kevin Evanto, confirmed Friday that a full-scale review of the county air program and its permitting process was under way. Asked if Mr. Onorato had approached the state about taking over the program, he said that was an option.

“Everything is on the table but no decision has been made,” Mr. Evanto said. “Our goal is to strike a balance between air quality and economic development, with an eye toward not hindering economic development in the county,”

Full Story: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07308/831053-85.stm#