Updated: Sep 13
The Allegheny County Board of Health on Wednesday greenlighted increases for air quality permit fees and set the price tag for 14 new fees related to the permitting process – changes that are expected to help buoy enforcement and compliance efforts.
The board voted 4-2 in support of the fee changes, which now head to Allegheny County Council for final approval. Dr. Kotayya Kondaveeti and Anthony Ferraro cast the dissenting votes. Absent were board Chairman Dr. Lee Harrison and members Joylette L. Portlock and Dr. Ellen C. Stewart.
Allegheny County Health Department’s revised fee schedule largely mirrors those approved by the state that went into effect this past January. ACHD Deputy of Environmental Health Jim Kelly made this point clear to board members, reminding them that all counties in Pennsylvania except Allegheny have already adopted the fees.
The DEP was adamant that the new changes were necessary for its air quality program to adequately administer and enforce air pollution laws in the 65 of the state’s 67 counties (excluding Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties) for which it is responsible. Why? Because the state Air Quality Program is funded by the fees that it charges rather than by general tax revenues.
For its part, ACHD Air Quality staff made the same argument about the necessity of the new and increased fees.
“We made sure we were in lockstep with the state,” Kelly told the board, adding that the updated fee schedule was based on an in-depth analysis of personnel and other resources needed to adequately enforce permits for air pollution sources.
Despite a lengthy, detailed report from Kelly showing exactly why the increases are needed – because of inflation, the need for seven new staffers in the past two years, and perhaps most importantly because of a federal requirement stipulating that major sources pay the costs associated with Title V facilities – Dr. Kondaveeti balked at the increases and what the response from industry might be.
Board member William Youngblood, who presided over the meeting in Dr. Harris’ absence, agreed in part, telling Kelly: “I think you’re going to have a lot of problems getting this passed through council.”
Kondaveeti then lamented that some industrial sources of air pollution in the area have experienced economic setbacks because of COVID-19, and cautioned fellow board members that they could get “backlash” for approving what he deemed to be drastic fee increases.
But board member Dr. Edith Shapira shot back, telling him that the changes were long overdue and that there has been a steady outcry from the public regarding air pollution and how it impacts their health.
“I think it would be a great mistake to delay this,” she said.
As for Dr. Kondaveeti’s comment that businesses are already suffering, Shapira added that “it can just as easily be said” that from a health standpoint, residents in frontline communities and beyond have been harmed by emissions because that exposure puts them at greater risk for COVID-19.
The proposed amendments now head to Allegheny County Council for final approval. Kelly said he was optimistic they could be approved at council’s May meeting.
What would those fees do if finally approved? They would increase application fees for plan approvals, operation permits, and the annual administration fees charged to operating permit holders that were based on a schedule set all the way back in the 1990s and last increased 14 years ago.
The proposed fee schedule is tiered, with the first set of increases going into effect 60 days after final adoption through 2025. The fees then increase in 2026 and then again in 2031. If finally approved, the plan would for the first time impose fees on major and minor sources of air pollution seeking:
revisions to plant-wide applicability limits;
ambient air impact modeling done in connection with certain plan approval applications;
risk assessments; and
requests for determination
GASP supports the proposed fee schedule changes and hopes that their final approval will provide for more robust enforcement.
“GASP believes revisions to the fee schedule are necessary for the Air Quality Program to be able to fulfill its mission of protecting air quality in Allegheny County,” GASP staff attorney Ned Mulcahy said. “A lack of funding from regulated and government sources should not impede the Air Quality Program’s essential work.”
GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini agreed, saying the board of health’s affirmative vote means the county is one step closer to a more appropriately funded Air Quality Program.
“The Clean Air Act requires that the fees imposed on Title V sources in Allegheny County be ‘sufficient to cover all reasonable (direct and indirect) costs required to develop and administer’ the health department’s Title V permit program,” she said. “Because ACHD’s Air Quality Program receives little or no funding from Allegheny County itself, the fees paid by non-Title V sources in the County must also generate sufficient revenue to fund the non-Title V side of the Program – making these changes kind of a no-brainer.”
GASP looks forward to working with our friends on Allegheny County Council to get these much-needed fee changes finally approved. Check back – we’ll need your help and your voice to get it done!