The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is auditing Spokane’s clean-air agency for a shortfall in funds generated by air permits for the county’s biggest polluters.
The Spokane County Air Pollution Control Agency is about $77,000 in arrears in a federal Clean Air Act program that’s supposed to pay for itself through fees. State law also requires the program to be 100 percent supported through fees.
EPA’s audit results are expected early next year. The EPA could take the program away from SCAPCA and have the state administer it, but it is more likely to give the agency time to raise its fees for operating air permits, said Ron Edgar, SCAPCA’s interim director. The cost of the program for the 2005 fiscal year is approximately $112,000.
“We’ve known for a while that EPA isn’t happy with us. We’ll need to go to the SCAPCA board to work out a new fee structure,” Edgar said.
Eric Skelton, the SCAPCA director who resigned Sept. 30 after an ongoing battle with a SCAPCA board considered unsupportive of Spokane’s clean-air programs, was working on a new fee structure for the program when he decided to leave the agency.
The permit program is part of Title V of the federal Clean Air Act, which governs operating air permits for large facilities that generate air pollution. There are 11 such facilities in Spokane County, including the city’s trash incinerator, Kaiser Aluminum’s Trentwood rolling mill and Inland Empire Paper Co., a subsidiary of Cowles Publishing Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
The 11 large facilities generate a total 1,717 tons of pollution each year, SCAPCA figures show.
The program shortfall is especially acute this year because Kaiser didn’t pay its $14,413 permit fee by the June 30 deadline, the end of the 2005 fiscal year. Kaiser ended up paying $57,652, including statutory penalties, when the delinquent permit fee went to collection, Edgar said.
“We’ll look bad this year because Kaiser failed to pay their fee,” Edgar said.
Meanwhile, at its monthly board meeting Thursday, SCAPCA’s board discussed a plan to spend $10,000 for a national search to replace Skelton. The board will form a search committee with outside expertise in public health and management and hopes to have a new director hired by early next year.
Karen Lindholdt, an attorney representing clean air groups, suggested the search committee include Jeff Corkill, an Eastern Washington University chemistry professor who serves on SCAPCA’s advisory board, and also choose among several local physicians who treat people with lung disease.
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