How can ordinary people win justice from an agency that seems to care little about their own laws and regulations? Take for example the recent report that the hazardous waste incinerator (WTI) in East Liverpool, OH. It stands tall next to the Ohio River and has released toxic substances above allowable limits 195 times over 175 days. This is not new for this facility. In fact CHEJ years ago went all the way to the Supreme Court in the state of Ohio to have the incinerators permit revoked. At that time the incinerator was only within compliance (legal limits) two quarters over a number of years.
The area surrounding the incinerator was defined as an Environmental Justice community, by the Environmental Protection Agency. As such the community should have seen tighter enforcement, more access to information and new polluting industries proposed would be weighed against the already high pollution in the area before allowed to be built.
None of that happen. In fact, a freedom of information request was made on several occasion for information because no one would provide the information through a simple request. Those freedom of information requests were able to be fulfilled but not without the low wealth community paying about $1,500. EPA refused to waive the fee for compiling the information. Fracking and injections wells were welcome in the area and operating today with little regard to the existing community toxic burden.
When CHEJ fought in court for the renewal permit to be revoked the local group Save Our County, filled the court room with local people. Three judges sat in the front of the room and listened to arguments from both sides. The community argument was clear, the company is breaking the law and have been for years and no one will do anything about it except collecting on a small number of fines and penalties. To WTI those fines are predictable and just the cost of doing business. The community is suffering from a multitude of adverse health impacts.
Ohio has this regulatory system that allows innocent people to be poisoned. The court ruled against the community when CHEJ helped them to appeal the permit. The judge said he had nothing to hang his hat on and said he understands why his court room is full of unhappy people. The judge said that because according to Ohio regulations, if a company is out of compliance – but has a plan to come into compliance – than they are considered in compliance.
What if that was the rule for everyday people and laws. For example, if you were found to be driving while drunk (DUI), but have a plan to go to alcohol anonymous, then you are not considered in violation of the law – worst you can continue to drive while under the influence, possibly killing innocent people—just like WTI.
EPA and the state of Ohio among other states need to right this wrong. It is the innocent victims that suffer the diseases and taxpayers who are burdened with the cost of those diseases and destruction of the environment and all living things.