Fair Shake's Public Comment on ORSANCO’s Pollution Control Standards

The Ohio River Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) is an interstate commission between eight states of the Ohio River Valley, which acts as a state dividing line for nearly all of its 981 mile stretch and the federal government . As with all rivers, what happens in one stretch of the river will undoubtedly affect downstream users of the river regardless of state lines, especially when it comes to pollution. Since 1948, ORSANCO has provided a much needed compact between all eight states to maintain consistent and fair pollution control standards (PCS).

We at Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services believe the ORSANCO’s proposal to eliminate the mandate for all states in the compact to adopt its PCS is a clear departure from ORSANCO’s purpose as stated in its founding compact and the intentions of the founding states in entering into the compact and forming the Commission.  The original 1948 compact’s preamble states:

[T]he growth in industrial activity within [the Ohio River basin], [has] resulted in recent years in an increasingly serious pollution of the waters and streams within the said drainage basin, constituting a grave menace to the health, welfare and recreational facilities of the people living in such basin, and occasioning great economic loss…

The control of future pollution and the abatement of existing pollution in the waters of [the Ohio River] basin are of prime importance to the people thereof, and can best be accomplished through the cooperation of the States situated therein, by and through a joint or common agency

While admittedly preferable to eliminating the PCS altogether, as was proposed in the first round of self-revisions, the Ohio River continues to face pollution from industry, including a proposed petrochemical build-out and increased oil and gas development, both of which come with their own set of known and emergent pollutants.  The Clean Water Act and the existence of the U.S. EPA has not eliminated the extreme difficulty of abating pollution and maintaining and improving water quality in large water bodies subject to multi-state jurisdiction.  The states’ intent in signing ORSANCO’s compact is just as relevant now as it was at the time of signing, which precedes the EPA.  ORSANCO needs to be stepping into the authority it holds, not relinquishing it.

Below is a list of the changes being proposed and our submitted public comment: 

1)    ORSANCO’s new proposal maintains the Pollution Control Standards, but eliminates the mandate that states adopt and implement those standards in their water permitting.  In short, it maintains the PCS, but turns them into guidance as opposed to mandates. 

This will result in inconsistent standards between states, increasing the states vulnerability to political pressure.  A facilitates a race to the bottom as states seek to become more attractive to industrial development. 

 By removing the mandate that states adopt the PCS in their respective permitting regimes, ORSANCO is creating a duplication of efforts among states and ORSANCO.  Instead of one entity setting standards for the Ohio River, states can perform the same task without any coordination, resulting in an immense waste of resources in addressing the immediate and very real needs of the Ohio River and the people who rely on it. Removing the mandate also leads to confusion about the standards applicable to the River, making it difficult for citizens to understand an already complicated framework.  Having states set their own standards for the Ohio River also complicates assessing attainment of the river’s uses and presents significant hurdles for completing the Clean Water Act’s 305(b) and 303(d) reports.


2)    ORSANCO states that it will still conduct a permit-by-permit review of discharge permits issued for polluters discharging directly into the main stem of the Ohio River, and that permits in states who have not adopted the standards will have to demonstrate equivalency to ORSANCO standards during this permit-by-permit review.

 This proposal lacks detail regarding ORSANCO’s permit review process, and until that detail is provided to the public for its input and review, it should not be approved.  ORSANCO’s permit review process should be publicly noticed.  That public notice should alert the public when the review is of a permit that is not implementing the PCS.  ORSANCO’s review should include the drafting and submission of comments by ORSANCO to the state agency and made publicly available.  These comments should explain whether the permit has met the PCS, and, if it has met PCS equivalency, the scientific basis for that decision.  The public should have the opportunity to review and consider these comments before the end of the public comment period, so they can incorporate that information in their own review.  ORSANCO should also give states clear direction on what must be supplied by the state permitting agency or the polluter in order to prove that PCS equivalency has been achieved by the permit.  The current proposal contains none of these requirements, and any permit-by-permit review could be rendered entirely superficial as a result. Until detailed requirements are set forth regarding the ORSANCO permit review process, this proposal is unacceptable and must be rejected as a weakening of water quality standards in the Ohio River.


For all of these reasons it is important that the public let ORSANCO know that we need them now more than ever.  We should not be talking about reducing their power we should be expanding their enforcement efforts. 

To submit a public comment voicing your concerns you must do so by April 15th, 2019.

You can write an email to PCS@orsanco.org or write a letter and mail it to:


5735 Kellogg Avenue

Cincinnati, OH 45230

Attn: PCS Comments

The full rules for submissions are below:

All parties interested in submitting comments may do so by mail or email. Mailed comments should be addressed to ORSANCO, 5735 Kellogg Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45230, Attn: PCS Comments. Emailed comments should be sent to: PCS@orsanco.org Emailed comments must be sent by the original submitter. Third party emails will not be accepted in order to protect data systems integrity. Comments must be included in the body of the email. Email attachments will not be accepted in order to protect data systems integrity. Please contact ORSANCO directly at 513-231-7719 for instructions on submitting technical and scientific information or data since email attachments cannot be accepted. Your name and mailing address must accompany all correspondence.