March 11, 2009

Pollution agency responds

As a Louisville native and nearly lifelong resident of this community, I take my position as executive director of the Metro Air Pollution Control District personally. Improving public health through environmental law and policy has been the main goal of my career to this point, and I am anxious to continue that work.

That is why I feel compelled to clarify some issues discussed in the Feb. 25 edition of LEO Weekly. In the story “Up in smoke,” reporter Jonathan Meador raised concerns regarding the Air Pollution Control District’s policies and practices that I feel deserve a response.

First, a person quoted in the article mistakenly states that the District is in the process of “streamlining” the city’s Strategic Air Toxic Reduction (STAR) program. Actually, we are proposing to simply clarify the STAR regulations in places where clarity is needed. We have repeatedly stated that STAR standards — the benchmark ambient concentrations — are “off the table.” The current process is not an attempt to roll back STAR. In fact, it is a continuation of the work started by the STAR Implementation Advisory Group, which met in 2006 and 2007 (of which Eboni Cochran, quoted in the article, was a member). Since the recommendations of the advisory group were never acted upon, the District took up where the former group had left off.

The confusion about “streamlining” probably started when the District sought public input on plans to evaluate various aspects of the organization. In a notice publicized on Jan. 21, 2009, the District indicated it is “evaluating the effectiveness of its regulations in light of three policy objectives: streamlining the process for issuing permits, implementing the Strategic Toxic Air Reduction (STAR) program for reducing the emissions of toxic air contaminants (TACs), and evaluating the recommendations set out in the STAR Regulation 5.30 Stakeholder Group Report and Plan of Action.”

The streamlining effort referred to is a completely separate initiative from STAR. As we explained to the reporter, the District is developing changes to its permitting programs in order to “streamline the permitting process for some of the lowest-emitting facilities” (emphasis added). These changes relate to the type of permits that are required for these facilities and do not change the air quality standards themselves. The lowest-emitting facilities are not, and have never been, subject to STAR. Such facilities include small dry cleaners, auto-body shops, gas stations and other small businesses that are in every neighborhood. The STAR 5.30 Report, produced by a stakeholder group consisting of 36 people, maps out a plan to assess and address toxic emissions from tiny, often family-owned, sources of air pollution.

We also explained to the reporter our procedures for investigating odor complaints. The District receives about 700 citizen complaints every year, many related to odor. They come from all over Louisville, and not just from neighborhoods close to Rubbertown. (Other odor sources include sewage treatment plants and the Swift packing plant in Butchertown.) We investigate all odor complaints for which we receive sufficient information. During business hours, complaints are received at the District’s main phone line, and are usually responded to within an hour. After regular business hours, MetroCall receives odor complaints via 311. Some odor complaints are investigated after hours; the District investigates all others the following business day. The District is not an emergency response agency. Anyone who suspects an air-related emergency should call 911 immediately.

Thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight from my point of view. As always, we welcome feedback from residents on our policies and procedures. The Air Pollution Control District’s main telephone number is 574-6000. To view the STAR 5.30 Report or for additional information about the agency, visit the website www.louisvilleky.gov/apcd. 

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