Does New Ohio EPA Policy Means Less Familiarity With Sources? Agency to rotate inspectors and permit writers every 5 years

Craig Butler, the Director of Ohio EPA, recently announced a new initiative by which agency staff will rotate throughout the various districts and divisions of the agency starting this fall. The letter, dated September 30, 2014, states that the new rotation policy is intended to help foster consistency among agency offices. “We believe staff rotation will enhance the uniformity of our inspections while also providing new perspectives and ideas – greatly improving the effectiveness of our efforts. And while some of our staff will be rotating, management in each division and district should remain the same so you should always have someone familiar with whom to discuss issues if they arise.” The letter goes on to note that the agency believes rotation will improve the breadth and depth of Ohio EPA employees’ knowledge.

Various Division Chiefs also sent letters or emails forwarding the Director’s announcement and expanding upon it. A letter from Karl Gebhardt, Deputy Director, Water Resources and Chief of the Division of Surface Water, dated October 3, 3024, explains that Division of Surface Water staff assignments will change in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and Permit-to-Install programs approximately every 5 years, noting that this coincides with the permit renewal timeframe. Some inspectors have apparently already been rotated to new assignments, while some rotations may not occur for several years to come.

Similarly, by email dated October 8, 2014, Bob Hodanbosi, Chief of the Division of Air Pollution Control, explained that for the Division of Air Pollution Control, the new policy means that “[n]o person will inspect your facility for more than five years,” while “[i]n the permitting area, the permit writer will be responsible for no more than one permit cycle or a five-year period for Title V sources. To improve continuity, the exiting permit writer will hand off or assist the new permit writer with the renewal permit.”

In many cases, Ohio EPA’s permit writers and inspectors have been assigned to the same facilities for many years, allowing them to get to truly get to know the facilities and their operations and to understand the complex permit requirements applicable.   How this new policy will affect those relationships between facilities and regulators remains to be seen.

Kathy Milenkovski is an energy and environmental lawyer. She helps clients comply with complex state and federal regulatory programs and represents clients in litigation, appearing in administrative, state and federal courts.
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