Environmental groups pressure Allegheny County officials to crack down harder on polluters | TribLIVE.com
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Theresa Clift
Environmental activists hold a scroll listing complaints from Carnegie Mellon’s ‘Smell Pittsburgh’ app during a rally at the Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard on July 13, 2018, to pressure county officials to crack down harder on air pollution.

More than 50 protesters gathered outside the Allegheny County Courthouse on Friday to pressure county officials to crack down harder on air polluters.

The group unraveled a scroll of complaints made through Carnegie Mellon University’s ‘Smell Pittsburgh’ app collected from September 2016 through June.

It wrapped around the courthouse fountain nearly twice.

Rita Botts, of Squirrel Hill, held a sign that said, “Mr. Fitzgerald: If we can’t survive in this air, then how can Amazon?”

“I think the county is willing to use taxpayer funds to subsidize Amazon coming to our area, but not air quality,” Botts said.

The protesters did not want the county to encourage new sources of pollution. The Shenango Coke Works plant on Neville Island was demolished earlier this year. The group is asking DTE Energy to develop the site into a solar energy farm, and wants Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald to support the effort.

“We’re asking Fitzgerald not to provide financial incentives to another polluter on the site,” said Angelo Taranto, co-founder of Allegheny County Clean Air Now.

The group plans to attend the county’s Board of Health meetings starting Wednesday until they read all of the more than 11,000 complaints made through the app from September 2016 through June of this year, said Mark Dixon, a local environmental activist and filmmaker. With public comments at those meetings limited to three minutes, it could take a while.

“It could take nine years to give less than two years of complaints,” Dixon said.

When Ashleigh Deemer, PennEnvironment’s western Pennsylvania director, and a group of about eight others arrived at Fitzgerald’s door after the rally, two security guards told them they could not go in to the office to deliver petitions.

That decision was a Sheriff’s Office decision, not a decision by Fitzgerald’s office, said Amie Downs, county spokeswoman.

“We never turn people away from his door,” Downs said.

After hearing about it from the Trib, Downs went to the courtyard and got the petitions to give the Fitzgerald, she said.

Sheriff’s Department officials had heard the group planned to do a sit in, which is not allowed, Downs said.

“It was a miscommunication,” she said.

Fitzgerald has met with the groups before, Downs said.

On Monday, two organizations sued the county over its health department’s plans to use more than $10 million from the Clean Air Fund and Title V Fund on a project to renovate its office space in Lawrenceville.

In April, an American Lung Association report ranked Pittsburgh is the nation’s 10th-worst region for short-term particle pollution.

In response, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker said officials are doing more to hold air polluters accountable than ever before , and pledged to do more.

As part of that crackdown, the department has made its civil penalties more strict and last month issued a $1 million fine to U.S. Steel for exceeding air emissions levels at Clairton Coke Works.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Theresa at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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