COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two Ohio environmental groups asked federal regulators Monday to investigate circumstances surrounding expired pollution-discharge permits at an agency where allegations of coal-industry influence arose during a personnel flap last year.
In a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Sierra Club and Ohio Environmental Council expressed concern that the Ohio EPA may be reluctant due to political pressure to impose pollution limits adequate to protect Ohio streams.
The agency has said the permits remain legal, protective and enforceable, but environmentalists say expired permits don't incorporate updated clean water standards.
"In theory, these expired permits could go on forever, but in reality, this is greatly endangering Ohio's rivers receiving the pollutants coal mine operators can discharge under outdated permits," said Nathan Johnson of the Ohio Environmental Council.
An Associated Press investigation published last week found that at least 18 coal facilities' permits had expired, 13 since Republican Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011. The letter says a general surface-mining permit also has expired.
Dan Sawmiller of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign said the groups are turning to the federal EPA after getting inadequate answers from the Kasich administration on the recent departures from Ohio EPA of a veteran surface-water chief and the agency's state director.
"Their leadership is the only way we can protect our water from coal-mining pollution," he said.
The discharge permits spell out what pollutants each mining operation, coal preparation plant, storm water facility or coal waste storage area can release under state and federal clean water laws.