A multi-state commission that sets Ohio River pollution standards wants to give states more flexibility in implementing them.
All 15 people who spoke at a hearing in Evansville Thursday night urged commissioners not to make the change.
The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) had proposed getting rid of its pollution control standards last year but reversed course after public backlash.
The organization’s water quality criteria would still be in effect under the new proposal, but states would now be allowed to modify how they enforce them.
ORSANCO's eight member states would still have to follow federal regulations and protect what the organization calls the river's designated uses, like serving as a drinking water source and a home for aquatic life, when they issue discharge permits to pollution sources.
"By giving them the flexibility they need but also making sure the water quality of the river is maintained, it really takes last year's proposal and modifies it significanly to a much more holisitc proposal," says Richard Harrison, ORSANCO's executive director and chief engineer.
John Blair, president of the environmental rights group ValleyWatch, says it's important that ORSANCO not just keep its current standards but strengthen them, especially for a city like Evansville that lies so far downstream.
"I call it the end-of-the-pipe syndrome," Blair says. "Whenever you’re drinking everyone else’s wastewater, it’s really important to have that wastewater not only as clean as can be but a little better than that."
The public hearing in Evansville is the second of three held by ORSANCO in cities along the river. One more is scheduled next week in the Cincinnati area.
The public comment period ends April 15. ORSANCO commissioners could make a decision as early as June, when they next meet in Covington, Kentucky.