Tuesday, January 11, 2011

PennFuture to Dixon: Reform or Resign

The environmental watchdog group Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (Penn
Future) says Allegheny County Health Department Director Bruce Dixon should implement all of the recommendations in the December 2009 Environmental Air Quality Task Force report by March 1st or resign. “It’s not O.K. to look away, it’s not O.K. to pretend just because we can’t always see how bad our air pollution is, it’s still unhealthy and in fact it’s deadly,” says PennFuture Vice President Heather Sage.

County Executive Dan Onorato convened the Task Force in 2009 to “make recommendations to improve regional air quality, increase services to stakeholders, and identify operating efficiencies.” In its report, the Task Force called for county air regulations to be brought up to, and in some cases to exceed, state standards, develop timely standards for reviewing permit applications and appeals, and redesign the Health Department’s organizational chart to give the Air Bureau more autonomy. Sage says the backlog of permits has been reduced in the last year but many of the other recommendations have gone unheeded. “The professionals in the air quality division are doing their best but they are hampered by Dr. Dixon’s passive aggressive brand of micro management,” says Sage. She says the system has very little transparency, has no timetables and no “real” way to appeal pollution permits. “A timeline and a system to appeal permits must be developed. That does not mean simple going back to Dr. Dixon for review,” says Sage. Sage contends Dixon will at times sit on the appeals for years. It has been recommended by Sage that the appeals process be turned over to the State Environmental Hearing Board.

“The ball is clearly in Bruce Dixon’s court,” says Sage, “he can fix these problems by March 1st and regain his reputation as a guardian of public health, or we will ask him to resign.” PennFuture is calling for the Air Bureau to have more say over how it spends its money and how it handles its personnel. The group would also like to see the Task Force reconvened by the County Executive as had been proposed in the group’s 2009 report. Sage says if the Task Force were to be allowed to continue to do its job there may be some room for compromise in PennFuture’s demands.

ACHD Director Bruce Dixon has not responded to requests for comment.

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