News Release

PennEnvironment statement on county controller’s audit of ACHD’s Air Program: Progress has been made, but continued effort needed

For Immediate Release

PITTSBURGH -- Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner released a new audit Tuesday of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) Air Quality program. The report found encouraging progress at ACHD, specifically in addressing the chronic problem of expired or unissued Clean Air Act permits, but stated that ACHD “continued to fall short of full compliance with its obligations under federal law."

The permitting backlog has long been a focus of public scrutiny, including PennEnvironment’s 2019 Cutting Through The Smoke report, which found that unissued Clean Air Act permits were hampering the fight for clean air. In September 2020, hundreds of residents across Allegheny County participated in Toxic Ten Week, an online event featuring grassroots action. It included calling on the county executive to increase funding to ACHD and to ensure the timely issuance of these permits. More than a dozen residents have submitted comments for the Allegheny County Council’s meeting today (Oct. 6), which echo these calls.

In response, Zachary Barber, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center’s Clean Air advocate, issued the following statement:

“Nobody would be allowed to recklessly drive without a valid license for decades, yet some of our region’s most toxic polluters have churned out unhealthy air emissions without even having their required Clean Air Act permits.

“Clean Air Act operating permits are a critical first step toward the goal of clean air. These permits enable residents to know what they’re breathing, and aid regulators and advocates in identifying problems and taking enforcement action.

“We are encouraged by the significant progress that ACHD has made in shrinking this permit backlog in recent years. But some of the biggest challenges are still ahead. For instance: U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works is currently running on an expired permit, and facilities like the ATI Brackenridge plant and Eastman Chemical have still never been issued an operating permit in the first place.

“During last month’s Toxic Ten Week, hundreds of residents told AlleghenyCounty Executive Fitzgerald and ACHD they must do what it takes to make the Pittsburgh region’s air truly healthy for all. Ensuring all polluters have up-to-date Clean Air Act permits is a vital first step toward achieving that vision.” 

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PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.pennenvironmencenter.org