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Special Air Advisory Committee Meeting Slated to Mull Proposal to Increase Fees on Polluters & Shore Up ACHD Shortfall

A special meeting of the Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee has been announced. The meeting, which is open to the public, is slated for 5:30 p.m. July 8.

This meeting will be focused on proposed air quality permit fee increases and associated Article XXI amendments. 

While it will be held in person at the CCAC Allegheny Campus, in the K. Leroy Irvis Building, Highmark Conference Room 302, a virtual option is also available through Microsoft Teams.

Here's what's going on:

Allegheny County Health Department’s Air Quality Program is facing a $1.8 million budget deficit and unveiled Monday a plan to buoy its budget through increasing myriad permit fees.

ACHD Deputy Director of Environmental Health Geoff Rabinowitz earlier this month presented a lengthy report to the Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee detailing those fees - one of which would go from $8,000 to $55,000 - and acknowledged that the numbers are “a bit of an eye opener.”

As a sidebar: The reason for the special meeting is because there was not quorum at the latest Air Pollution Advisory Committee. It was the third straight meeting where the Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee lacked a quorum and could not take official action.

But back to the suggested permit fee changes…

Rabinowitz said the timeframe is “aggressive” and that the Air Quality Program hopes to have the fee changes in place by the end of the year.

Committee members noted procedural concerns. At least one member noted that the proposal should have been vetted by ACHD’s regulation subcommittee, which was bypassed.

Another called the justification for the increases “scant.”

Rabinowitz retorted that he envisioned that the regulation subcommittee could take a formal stance on the plan by meeting during the public comment period and providing feedback as part of that process.

There was significant back and forth over whether or not the advisory committee would hold a special meeting to formally recommend or oppose the plan - or whether a formal letter opposing the advancement of the plan would be submitted to county leaders.

Rabinowitz said he intended to take the permit fee increase proposal to the July 17 Board of Health meeting to formally request approval to send it to public comment.

By way of background: This would be the second time in less than two years that ACHD is seeking to increase permit fees. Allegheny County Council in September 2022 approved increases in line with those approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). You can read all about that here.

And it wouldn’t be the first time ACHD raised the alarm about a budget shortfall. Last year, the Air Quality Program tried - unsuccessfully - to get access to a greater portion of the Clean Air Fund to help beef up its bottom line. You can read all about that here.

GASP continues to follow this issue closely and will keep you posted. 

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