COLUMBUS (AP) — Draft rules being considered by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency would allow developers’ privately-hired consultants to get state certification to monitor and certify water quality, potentially speeding up the permit process.
Currently, state biologists monitor water quality and determine whether applicants should receive water permits for developments at sites that have wetlands or streams, The Columbus Dispatch reports. The state also validates monitoring done by consultants routinely hired by applicants.
The draft rules being considered by the state EPA would allow consultants hired by companies to receive state-level professional certification for monitoring water quality and perform some work now handled by state biologists.
Environmental groups said they have concerns that if the proposal goes through, the Ohio EPA could be abdicating too much of its responsibility over water-quality monitoring to certified professionals paid by companies. They also are concerned about the quality of data to be collected under the new Water Quality Certified Professional Program.
Elissa Yoder Mann, a conservation program manager for the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter, said the group would like to see Ohio EPA "focus more on qualified practitioners using credible data to make informed decisions."
"We are not convinced the Water Quality Certified Professional Program will do so," she said.
Tiffani Kavalec, chief of Ohio EPA’s Division of Surface Water, said certified professionals hired by companies would receive state training, and agency staff could conduct random audits and discretionary audits if they believe something could be wrong with the certified professionals’ work.
Without the program, state biologists spend part of their time going out to proposed project sites and checking the accuracy of work done by the non-certified consultants.
The voluntary program using certified professionals would reduce the potential wait time for developers to get Ohio EPA responses on permits from a maximum 180 days to a maximum of 90 days, according to officials.
Ohio EPA spokesman James Lee told The Associated Press that the use of certified professionals would enable agency staff to better evaluate applications that come in from non-certified consultants.
Lee said the rules as drafted require those seeking certification to have prior education in environmental sciences or equivalent professional experience.
The initial public comment phase on the rules ended Monday, Lee said, but the agency will seek additional comment and hold a hearing before any rules are proposed to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. That committee reviews proposed rules from more than 110 state agencies and can recommend invalidating rules if it determines they do not meet state requirements.