Kentucky House passes bill limiting power of Louisville’s air pollution authority

Amendment authorizes local fines for five-year pattern of self-reported violations

By: - January 23, 2024 7:18 pm

Democratic Rep. Rachel Roarx offered a successful amendment that would allow Louisville authorities to issue fines when industries self-report if there is a pattern of violations over five years. (LRC Public Information)

Kentucky lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would prevent Louisville’s air pollution authority from issuing fines against industries that self-disclose violations of federal pollution regulations. 

Jared Bauman

Rep. Jared Bauman, R-Louisville, on the House floor reiterated his reasoning for House Bill 136 by saying it would bring industries in Jefferson County into the same “environment and audit privilege” as those in the rest of the state. 

House Bill 136, would bring the Louisville Air Pollution Control District (APCD) under a state law that allows industrial polluters to avoid civil penalties if they self-report air pollution violations and rectify the issue. Air pollution is regulated by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet through that legal framework in all counties except Jefferson County, which is regulated separately by the APCD. HB 136 would put the APCD under that state framework.

An environmental advocacy and legal organization, Kentucky Resources Council, had concerns about the bill when it was approved by a House committee last week, saying it could give industry in Jefferson County a “free pass” from potential penalties levied by the APCD. 

Rep. Chad Aull, D-Lexington, echoed those concerns on the House floor, saying he believed the law could face litigation and was “not needed.”

“This law will disincentivize industries from taking steps to eliminate violations seeing that they won’t face a penalty,” Aull said. “It’ll also further harm our environmental health in the largest community in the commonwealth.” 

Rep. Rachel Roarx, D-Louisville, added an amendment to the bill that would still allow the APCD to issue penalties against violators even with self-disclosure if there’s a “pattern of violations” over five years.

Roarx joined another Democrat, Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, in voting for the bill as part of a “compromise” that included feedback from the APCD. Roarx told the Lantern after the bill passed 80-14 she still had concerns but that the amendment improved the legislation. 

Bauman told the Lantern after HB 136 cleared  the House he thought the amendment was “reasonable” to make sure “the privilege isn’t abused.” 

“I was pleased that we were able to work together and make it bipartisan,” Bauman said. 

A spokesperson for the APCD said the regulator doesn’t have a position on the bill, but the regulator’s executive director did provide feedback on the legislation. 

Bauman said it was his understanding the APCD has remained neutral on the bill.

“They certainly didn’t oppose the bill. They obviously didn’t support the bill,” Bauman said. 

Bauman works for the Lubrizol Corporation, a chemical manufacturing company with an operation in Louisville that is regulated by the APCD. Bauman had received an advisory opinion from the legislature’s ethics commission when he filed HB 136 that stated there was no conflict of interest with him sponsoring the legislation because the bill affected industry as a whole, not just his employer. 

Bryon Gary, an attorney with the Kentucky Resources Council who previously worked with the APCD, said the organization’s concerns about HB 136 still remain even with Roarx’s amendment added. 

Gary said the state regulatory framework outside Jefferson County should be updated to clarify industry’s regular reporting to comply with the federal Clean Air Act doesn’t constitute voluntary disclosures that allow for avoiding fines.

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.