County Board of Health Proposes Changes to Air Pollution Regulations

Aug 19, 2014

US Steel Clairton Coke Works is a "major source" of air pollution in Allegheny County, emitting more than 100 tons of pollutants each year.
Credit Flickr user roy.luck

Three changes to Allegheny County’s regulations on air pollution will be introduced in County Council Tuesday evening.

According to Jim Thompson, deputy director for environmental health at the Allegheny County Health Department, the most significant proposed change would increase the fees paid by “major sources” of air pollution.

“Prior to this year, large sources were paying $57.50/ton of pollutant emitted,” Thompson said. “Starting this year, it will be $85/ton.”

Thompson said the fee change will bring county fees in line with the fees imposed on emitters by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“This is a very successful program in terms of reducing pollution because it gives companies an incentive to reduce their pollution and they will pay less money,” Thompson said. “If they reduce it far enough below the major source threshold, they will not pay anything.”

The fees are levied only on “major sources,” which are those that emit 100 or more tons of air pollutant each year.

“The two largest emitters in Allegheny County are the U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works, which emits a lot of fine particulates and sulfur dioxide, and the Cheswick Power Plant which is the largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in the county,” Thompson said.

A second change has to do with air pollution modeling that is required by major sources when they build or modify facilities. Currently, county policy requires only state approval when the models used differ than the ones set forth by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. But the EPA weighed on the regulation, saying it wants to approve any changes in the types of models used to predict air pollution.

Thompson said the EPA model is fairly basic, and that Pennsylvania’s terrain and meteorological conditions often require more complex and sophisticated air pollution models.

The final change removes an obsolete regulation that has to do with the transport of hot coke. Thompson said more appropriate regulations have been put in place to replace the out-of-date rule.

Thompson said he’s fairly confident that the proposed changes will move through County Council without incident.

“These are fairly non-controversial," Thompson said. "They passed unanimously from the Board of Health. They all went out to public comment prior to the board of health voting on them, and there were no adverse comments related to the regulations.”