Ohio River pollution control agency wants to abandon its water quality standards

Posted by: Robin Ghee on August 13, 2018

“Protect our water” was the strong and clear message of close to 100 people who attended a July 26 public forum on a proposal to abandon regional water standards for the Ohio River by the multistate Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO).

“Only a few years after the water crisis of Flint and Standing Rock, we are on the verge of another nightmare in which regulators are more interested in carrying out the wish list of polluting industry than protecting the health of the public.” said Eira Tansey, a member of Metro Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Democratic Socialists of America.

ORSANCO was established on 1948 as a compact between eight states and the federal government to control and abate pollution in the Ohio River basin. But now the commission is proposing an industry-backed plan to do away with its standards, letting states set pollution standards.

Yet all who spoke pointed out that often the commission’s standards well surpass those set by the federal Clean Water Act and state laws. And despite stronger regional standards, the Ohio River remains the most polluted inland waterway in the country.

The river hosts 26 coal-burning plants along its banks, about one every 38 miles. Five million people from eight states rely on drinking water from the river.

At least 100 pollutants for which there are no federal or state standards are included in ORSANCO’s standards. Fifty-two of Kentucky’s water quality standards are weaker than ORSANCO’s.

Gutting regional standards would leave an uneven network of weaker individual state regulations, many commenters pointed out. And the proposal comes at a time when the federal Environmental Protection Agency is being undermined in Washington, DC.

Public comment was passionate and opposed

I attended the public hearing with other members of the Northern Kentucky KFTC Chapter, as well as individuals who call the river area their home and members of a wide swath of environmental and activist organizations.

We heard well-researched arguments by public health and environmental scientists and activists who have been long involved in the fight to protect our water.

Epidemiologist Colleen Kaelin of Frankfort recently retired from the Kentucky Department of Public Health where she served as the epidemiologist in charge of environmental health impacts.

“My main focus has been the impact of climate change on public health,” she said. “One of the things we’ve seen is that virtually every major waterborne disease outbreak has been preceded by and extreme precipitation event. The forecast for the coming years is more frequent and more extreme weather events of all kinds including heavy rainfall.”

This is not the time to be deregulating, she said. “We need to increase the watchfulness over our water quality because we will be seeing more infectious disease outbreaks, more situations similar to the lead poisoning in Flint if we do not continue to consistently monitor our water quality and our water security.”

Indra Frank, a physician and director of environmental health and water policy at the Indiana-based Hoosier Environmental Council, addressed the claim of redundancy. She took information about her state directly from a report by ORSANCO comparing its standards to those of member states and the EPA.

“There are 54 ORSANCO standards that Indiana does not have at all and 63 ORSANCO standards that are more protective than the Indiana standards. So, there are more than 100 standards that are not redundant along the Indiana stretch of the river,” she pointed out.

Frank also noted that Indiana state administrative code references ORSANCO standards and would have to be rewritten at great expense if the state wanted to reestablish the standards lost if ORSANCO abandons them.

Dangerous connections

We also heard from activists and community organizers who were angered by the influence of corporate money on the commissioners and their decisions. Three commissioners are appointed by each of the governors of the eight states along the river, and three are appointed by the federal government.

Eira Tansey questioned where commissioners’ interests lie.

“We’ve been told that the majority of commissioners favor … a path towards deregulation that happens to line up with the interests and stated preferences of polluting industry.”

Ohio’s status as one of the dirtiest rivers in the country can be directly traced to companies that have requested the commission relax its standards, she added, including Alcoa, AK Steel, American Electric Power, ArcelorMittal, First Energy, Duke Energy and Jupiter, who all have had dozens of Clean Water Act violations in recent years.

“Half of the commissioners have ties to polluting industry. They have either worked directly in the mining and energy industries or they’ve represented them as clients of their consulting firms and law practices.”

Among those with industry ties, Tansey listed Commissioner [Charles] Snavely of Kentucky, who retired from Excel Mining, and West Virginia commissioners Austin Caperton, who worked at Massey Energy; David Flannery, who serves on the National Coal Council; and Ronald Potesta, chair of the commission, who has represented clients such as Dupont, one of the worst polluters of the river.

“This is not sound science or policy making,” she concluded. “This is the fox guarding the hen house door. If the commission guts regional pollution control standards, it is selling out the health and safety of everyone living downstream from polluting industry for the ability of corporations to make more money.”

Individuals voice fears and concerns

The most moving comments came from those who live in the small river towns of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, whose families have relied on the river for decades. Army veteran Melanie Phillips participates in a recreation program for veterans and said the river is one of the only places she finds peace to deal with PTSD and other issues.

Another person said she remembered a childhood playing in a creek that feeds into the river and questioned whether her grandchildren will never know that joy.

The meeting drew people young and old. Students from the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition were well represented.

“Things like this are extremely upsetting. I can’t help getting angry,” KSEC member Emma Anderson said. “I grew up on the Ohio River, swam in the river every day in the summer. It’s a part of me, I miss it like a friend when I’m gone. It’s just a bad idea.”

Noland Aull also is a member of KSEC and an environmental commissioner for Fayette County.

“There’s this abdication from the top down of responsibilities. There’s this very toxic concept that leaving it up to the free market will create a push for moral behavior, this good stewardship. It’s been proven time and again to just not be the case,” Aull said. “It never works out, much to the chagrin of local populations who have to deal with the aftermath and who are the least prepared to do so. The abdication of authority, the abdication of responsibility is definitely something to be concerned about.”

To sum up, people are angry and concerned about what might happen if the more stringent ORSANCO standards should go away. They do not buy the argument that its standards are redundant and are concerned that this move could increase pollution and negatively impact the vital Ohio River water for decades to come.

To weigh in on the issue, the email is pcs@orsanco.org to submit comments. The address is ORSANCO, 5735 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati OH 45230. The deadline to submit comments is August 20.

To read more information about the PCS program or this comment period, the website is: www.orsanco.org/programs/pollution-control-standards/

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KFTC 2018 annual membership meeting reflection

Posted by: Matthew Frederick on August 7, 2018

KFTC’s annual meeting once again demonstrated the power that a 37-year-old grassroots organization can bring to bear. Harnessing the people power of its near 12,000 strong members, KFTC brought together over 300 of its membership in Berea. They attended multiple workshops throughout a weekend full of training, learning, dialogue and fellowship.

KFTC members tour Berea College to learn about the institution’s legacy and history.Aside from the necessary administration of chapter petitions, platform changes, officer elections and recognizing the significant work and contributions of many, KFTC’s annual meeting is a time for its membership, which spans the entire commonwealth of Kentucky, to meet and talk face to face. For such a large, decentralized organization, this time is invaluable for networking, planning and growing. It’s a time for members to connect with each other when they otherwise might not, and this aspect of the meeting found special emphasis this year with the theme of “Creating Kentucky’s Beloved Community.”

Reflecting on the 2018 Organizing Academy cohort

Posted by: Fannie Madden-Grider on July 19, 2018

I want to thank KFTC for helping my husband Alvin and me keep the despair and darkness away during the last year. Last night marked our first anniversary with the Rowan County chapter.  Although we joined in April at an event in Lexington, our first meeting locally was the 2017 annual meeting. 

We recruited four more members by September, all of whom have been active on the Democracy Team. All of us except Alvin, who will soon begin working full-time with KFTC through December, have signed up to serve on local and state-wide committees. Alvin brought a new member to the annual meeting last night, and a couple more college students are going to other chapters back home this summer, then coming to the Rowan chapter in the fall as new members. 

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Posted by: Caraline Feairheller on July 16, 2018

“Somebody’s hurting my brother
and it’s gone on far too long (Yes, it’s gone on far too long)
and we won’t be silent anymore

The Poor People’s Campaign and KFTC share key goals

Posted by: Meta Mendel-Reyes, KFTC Chairperson on July 9, 2018

On a hot day last month, I stood in front of the state capitol building with hundreds of other Kentuckians, including many KFTC members.

Perry County members visit Rep. Rogers’ office about border issue

Posted by: KFTC staff on July 8, 2018

Members of the Perry County KFTC Chapter of gathered Tuesday in Hazard in front of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers' office to protest the separation of families and stand in solidarity with immigrants being targeted by ICE and Customs and Border Protection.

The KFTC members met with Danielle Smoot of Rogers' staff to discuss the issue of separating families at the border. They asked for a meeting with Rogers when he is in Kentucky during a congressional recess.

There is a real fear that causes people from other countries to seek asylum in the U.S., Susan Hull of Perry County pointed out. "I lived in Nicaragua for three years. There are ‘the missing’ as they call them, the army comes in and then people are missing the next day. I know that it's true, but it's something that some of my friends here think is made up. There is a real fear."

Stanley Sturgill tells congressional hearing of attacks on coal miners

Posted by: KFTC staff on July 5, 2018

In June, Harlan County KFTC member Stanley Sturgill spoke at a congressional forum about poverty hosted by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rep Elijah Cummings and coordinated with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Love and Acceptance

Kimmy Sandlin and Mari Froude pose before the 2nd Annual NKY Pride Parade!
Posted by: Kimmy Sandlin on July 2, 2018

On June 10, 2018 I had the privilege to march in the Northern Kentucky Pride Parade. I marched with the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth Northern Kentucky chapter. I am currently interning with KFTC with Joe Gallenstein as my supervisor. My friend, Mari, had stayed over the night before so we could wake up early to prepare. We were both so excited to go to the parade and to support the LGBTQ+ community. We woke up early that morning to meet Joe at Roebling Point Books and Coffee where we started our day with a cup of coffee and donuts. I had been sick for the past week, and wasn’t sure I’d have the energy needed to participate. That doubt disappeared once we walked over to our spot in the parade and waited for the parade to start.

While waiting I could already feel how important it is for our communities to show support. I could feel all the love and acceptance as I spoke with others participating in the parade. We talked about issues that were close to our hearts, and how we plan to achieve our goals. Once the parade started, I was happy to see people from our communities showing their support and I enjoyed seeing how happy the children were to catch pieces of candy. Being a part of all the love was enlightening.  Music played, people danced and sang. Despite being exhausted from my cold, my friend and I, danced and sang along as well. Being goofy and jumping around was so much fun and being a part of the parade has been a highlight of my summer. Although, we should not limit support for the LGBTQ+ community to just one month, I am very excited to have been a part of the Pride Parade this year and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year!

With new skills, pilot Organizing Academy cohort graduates

Posted by: KFTC staff on July 1, 2018

After spending six months learning about power, grassroots community organizing, KFTC, and the history of activism and organizing in Kentucky, KFTC’s pilot Organizing Academy cohort graduated in June.

“The Community Organizing Academy was so special because of the many unique life experiences brought together in one room,” Alexa Hatcher of Bowling Green reflected. “We worked to make genuine connections with each other the entire six months and those connections are deep and lasting. Everyone was a teacher and everyone was a student.”

Kentuckians explore a new economy at CommonBound

Posted by: KFTC staff on June 27, 2018

From June 22 to June 24, at least 17 Kentuckians converged at Harris-Stowe University in St. Louis, Missouri to attend CommonBound 2018.

KFTC members attend Families Belong Together Rally!

Posted by: Joe Gallenstein on June 15, 2018

The Northern Kentucky chapter of KFTC joined Northern Kentucky Justice and Peace Committee, Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, Northern Kentucky Indivisible and Together We Will - Cincinnati for a rally on the Roebling Bridge on June 14 to protest the Trump administration's policy of separating families.

The event, which was scheduled to be a part of events taking place nationwide, gained more attention closer to the action locally based on news reports of a plan to build 'tent cities' to house children (both unaccompanied minors and those separated from their families by the Department of Homeland Security) and the conditions inside of other holding facilities. Those in attendance chanted slogans offering support for families directly and indirectly impacted by the new heinous policy.


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