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Use of County Clean-Air Funds for Building Renovation Challenged

By: Andrea Sears

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Clean air advocates contend using the County Clean Air Fund for Allegheny County Health Department office renovations is illegal.

The Group Against Smog and Pollution, or GASP, and the Clean Air Council have asked the Court of Common Pleas to stop the county from using the money for purposes that don’t advance efforts to end air pollution. Allegheny County is in the top 2 percent of counties nationwide for cancer risk related to inhaled toxins.

GASP’s Executive Director Rachel Filippini explained the money comes from fines paid by companies that violate pollution permits, and the law dictates how it is supposed to be spent.

“Projects that will actually improve air quality, that help to educate Allegheny County residents about air pollution,” Filippini said; “they could go towards things like supplying a university with money to do a study on air pollution, to try to figure out how to control it better.”

Allegheny County Health Department officials have not responded to reporters’ requests for comment on the lawsuit. The renovation is expected to cost about $9 million, with half the money coming from the Clean Air Fund. The other half would come from a fund used to issue and enforce Title V pollution permits.

Attorney Logan Welde with the Clean Air Council pointed out that many facilities in Allegheny County have been operating for years with expired Title V permits.

“With the Title V fund, they could have sped that process up, hired inspectors,” Welde said. “We believe that both the Clean Air Fund and the Title V fund could have been put to a better use.”

He added that Allegheny County has a rainy-day fund of about $46 million, and the County Council recently approved $114 million for infrastructure bonds.

Filippini noted the law does allow the County Health Department to use up to 5 percent of the balance of the Clean Air Fund every year for operational expenses, but the building renovation project would use much more than that.

“It’s just inappropriate to use this much, an unprecedented, huge amount of this money – nearly 40 percent of the remaining balance – on one building renovation project,” she said.

The groups are asking the Court of Common Pleas to issue a judicial order preventing the use of air-quality improvement funding on the office renovation.

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