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Ohio River Pollution Watchdog Could Give Up Regulatory Power

ORSANCO crew collects physical, chemical and biological data in the Ohio River basin. (@ORSANCOchannel/Twitter)

A commission that controls pollution in the Ohio River could give up its regulatory abilities. Companies along the river say the commission’s rules are redundant.

ORSANCO — the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission — has been around since 1948, decades before the Clean Water Act. Now utilities and other companies say its oversight is no longer needed.

Indiana environmentalists disagree. Most of ORSANCO’s commissioners come from its eight states. Environmentalists say that keeps states that pollute more in check.

“We happen to be in the middle of a bunch of super polluters and these are the power plants that all drain into the Ohio River,” says John Blair, president of Valley Watch.

ORSANCO has some standards that are either stricter that the Environmental Protection Agency or cover things that the agency doesn’t. As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt loosens environmental regulation, some environmentalists worry that relying on the EPA’s standards may not be enough.

Jason Flickner is the director for the Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper. He says without ORSANCO, Indiana wouldn’t talk with states upstream unless there was an issue.

“And that’s when you end up in all types litigation and problems between the states which is what ORSANCO should be there to keep from happening,” he says. “To make sure these states are working together to protect our clean water resources.”

But ORSANCO executive director Richard Harrison says the organization will still work with states. He also says getting rid of the pollution control standards could free up resources for the commission’s other programs like water testing or combating algal blooms.

“To make sure our resources are really being geared toward those areas that provide the most benefit,” he says.

ORSANCO hopes to reach a decision on its pollution standards at its June 7 meeting in Louisville. Richard Harrison says the public will have an opportunity to comment after the meeting as well.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

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