Friday, April 2, 2004

Dirty air cost area firms, jobs

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WASHINGTON - At least four international companies bypassed Greater Cincinnati for new locations or expansions because of the area's inability to achieve clean-air standards, a top regional business official told a U.S. Senate environmental subcommittee Wednesday.

Michael Fisher, president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, also told the Senate subcommittee on clean air, climate change and nuclear safety that the region's "non-attainment" status also has contributed to an exodus of manufacturing jobs.

"It has also been a factor in reducing the number of expansions in Hamilton County alone," Fisher said.

He said the chamber was told of the four companies by relocation consultants who did not say which companies were involved.

Fisher added that Ohio environmental regulators are also advising companies to hire environmental consultants before trying to apply for new air permits.

"And no offense against lawyers and consultants, but those are not the kind of jobs we want to grow here," Fisher told the subcommittee. He said the area has lost 35,000 manufacturing jobs between 1995 and 2003, when 1995 projections called for a loss of 14,000 such jobs by 2000.

The hearing was to review impending stricter air quality standards and regulations and their potential impact.

On April 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin the process of enforcing tougher standards for air pollution.

It's widely expected that both Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky will be listed as at least "moderately" out of compliance.

Fisher was invited to testify by subcommittee chairman Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

Voinovich, a former Ohio governor, said that while there is nothing that can be done about the new standard going into place, many decisions still have to be made about how the standards are met.

"We have to consider the economic impact like what we saw in places like Cincinnati with the old standard," Voinovich said following the hearing. "We have to harmonize the environmental impact with the impact on our economy and jobs."

Subcommittee Democrats, including Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, said the Bush administration wasn't doing enough and was watering down current rules.

They grilled EPA administrator Mike Leavitt extensively on a proposed rule on mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants as well as another proposed rule that reduce emissions but give credits to emitters if they paid for them.


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