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GASP sues County over misuse of Clean Air FundEdit

On Monday, January 23, 2006, GASP filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County to prevent the misuse of Clean Air Fund monies which are designated for improving air quality in Allegheny County and for public education related to air pollution.

GASP is asking the court to preliminarily and permanently enjoin the County from allowing the disbursement and use of $1.3 Million from the Clean Air Fund to carry out a proposed demolition project at the former US Steel Duquesne Works and prevent any future decisions by the Board of Health which would permit Clean Air Funds to be used for similar projects.

Clean Air Fund monies are restricted by Allegheny County Health Department Rules and Regulations, Article XXI, Air Pollution Control, which states funds should be used solely, "to support activities related to the improvement of air quality within Allegheny County and to support activities which will increase or improve knowledge concerning air pollution."

The Board of Health violated this restriction on November 2, 2005 when it voted to request funds to pay for the demolition of blast furnace stoves, and associated asbestos removal, in order to facilitate the construction of a highway flyover near the Duquesne site. Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and County Manager James M. Flynn, Jr. would also violate this restriction upon approval of the request and disbursement of the monies.

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ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP FILES SUIT TO HALT ALLEGHENY COUNTY GRANTEdit

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

By Anita Srikameswaran, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

An environmental activist group is suing to stop Allegheny County from spending $1.3 million from a Health Department clean air fund for redevelopment of a former steel mill site in Duquesne.

Tomorrow, Common Pleas Judge Judith L.A. Friedman is expected to set a date to hear the request for a preliminary and permanent injunction, which was filed Monday by the Group Against Smog and Pollution.

"We think it's very clear-cut when you look at the regulations that this has been an inappropriate request from the Board of Health," said Elizabeth Rosemeyer, GASP's outreach coordinator.

In a November meeting, county Manager Jim Flynn asked his fellow health board members to approve a $1.3 million expenditure from the Clean Air Fund for demolition of 15 inactive, asbestos-containing stoves on what was a U.S. Steel plant.

That would permit the next phase of redevelopment of the site, Mr. Flynn said at the time, and he added that the grant could be a "pilot project" or "test case" for future Clean Air Fund disbursements for redevelopment of brownfields.

The board unanimously approved the grant, the largest in the fund's history, but representatives from GASP and Clean Water Action immediately questioned the legality of the decision.

Clean Air Fund regulations say that the money is to be used for projects like developing air pollution control technology, monitoring, education and health studies, Ms. Rosemeyer said.

The regulations also restrict funds from being given to permitted sources. The stoves are now inactive, but developers will need a Health Department permit when they tear them down and remove the asbestos.

"In a way, you're paying the source to do what they are obligated to do under the law," Ms. Rosemeyer said. Regional Industrial Development Corp. owns the site, but the funds would be disbursed through an arm of the county's Department of Economic Development.

The county's air pollution advisory committee unanimously opposed the grant a few weeks later. Typically, the committee reviews and comments on fund applications before the health board deliberates.

Mr. Luneberg said his client is asking for an injunction to stop the county not only from disbursing funds in this case, but in any case where the money would be spent on an economic development project.

The Clean Air Fund was established in 1980 and is made up of fines and penalties from air pollution violators. It currently has about $7 million in it, said health department spokesman Guillermo Cole.

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