The Chamber of Commerce and environmental group Clean Water Action have faced off in front of Allegheny County Council before. But on April 20, the environmentalists finally won one.
The subject was the controversial nomination of Leslie Hyde, a Koppers Inc. pollution lawyer, to the county Board of Health. The nine-member board sets pollution rules and monitors emissions, among other roles. In March, County Executive Dan Onorato submitted Hyde's board nomination. Clean Water Action pelted Hyde with accusations that her company's Clairton tar plant has violated benzene discharge limits and has been fined for inadequate storage tank maintenance. "We cannot allow polluters or their representatives to write [health] regulations," Jefferson resident Lisa Graves Marcucci told council.
Badly written pollution regulations have "the potential to severely constrain a company's financial health," countered Chamber spokesman Flanagan. The Chamber wants "one [health board] member who understands what it is to be a regulated entity."
County Manager Jim Flynn and Council President Rich Fitzgerald pledged that an environmentalist would get the next board seat when one opens up in 2005. But some councilors expressed concern with the "appearance" that Hyde might face conflicts of interest as a board member. Others noted the long-running dispute between the board and council regarding which entity has the power to write environmental regulations. Hyde said she'd respect council's authority, but apparently didn't bow deeply enough. In a 6-8 vote, her nomination was defeated.
"That's a mistake on their part, but OK," Onorato says. He says Hyde's defeat scuttles -- at least for now -- the agreement to put an environmentalist on the board in 2005. "I'm not going to put all environmental people on it, and I'm not going to put all business people on it."
Onorato showed his obvious anger by withdrawing the nomination of Carnegie Mellon University visiting environmental professor Devra Lee Davis to the county's Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee. That committee makes non-binding recommendations to the Board of Health, and Davis' nomination was suggested by Clean Water Action. That withdrawal, says Onorato, is "based on the rejection of the business person. ... You can't reject one and get all the others."
"I think that's just unfortunate on his part," says Clean Water Regional Director Myron Arnowitt of Onorato's withdrawal of Davis' nomination. "Obviously he's blaming us for what happened with Leslie Hyde," he says, adding that there "were a lot of factors" contributing to her defeat. "We certainly would be willing to sit down and talk with [Onorato's administration] some more and try to get them on the right track."