WARREN - The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is now saying that despite a recent appeal ruling favorable to Patriot Water, the company cannot resume business as usual.
OEPA Spokesman Chris Abbruzzese said, contrary to Patriot owner Andrew Blocksom's recent statements, the Environmental Review Appeals Commission's (ERAC) decision does not change the fact that Patriot's permits do not authorize the disposal of brine in any way that is not approved by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, including disposal by Warren's Wastewater Treatment Plant and ultimate dumping into the Mahoning River.
The statement says that while Patriot has always been allowed to accept brine and treat it on-site, and may continue to do so, they cannot send it to Warren for further treatment and ultimate disposal into the river.
The statement essentially takes the Patriot argument back to square one. Since last year, OEPA Director Scott Nally's contention has been that the permits did not meet with Ohio Revised Code requirement that the ODNR chief of oil and gas to approve brine disposal methods other than injection wells or street surface spreading for dust and ice control.
Disposal of brine through a wastewater treatment plant is not included in the standard accepted methods.
When OEPA originally contested the legality of the permits their office previously issued to Warren and Patriot, they argued that then-ODNR Oil and Gas Chief John Usted had not approved Patriot's method and therefore the permits were issued illegally under former OEPA Director Chris Korleski.
In fact, the 57-page ruling issued by ERAC Tuesday recounts discussions during deposition during which ODNR deferred authority on Patriot's method. It further states that while Nally can, under Ohio Administrative Code, impose terms and conditions to ensure compliance with "applicable laws," he has no authority to expand his power in enforcing parts of Ohio law outside his jurisdiction.
ERAC ruled essentially that OEPA and Nally's authority is applicable only to enforcement of the Clean Water Act.
Emails surfaced late last year that revealed discussions among OEPA executives, and at least one which addresses ODNR's deferment on the matter to OEPA, based on considerations of water quality standards.
Blocksom continues to disagree with OEPA and maintains the ruling will allow them to restart operations.
He said his attorneys have explained the finer points of the ruling that he has read in its entirety several times.
He said ERAC's ruling revokes the section in Patriot and Warren's 2012 permits which bans Warren from taking Patriot's treated brine.
Abbruzzese could not be reached for further comment Friday.
But Patriot's attorney, April Bott of Bott Law Group in Dublin, said Blocksom's assessments are correct.
Bott said Friday she thinks OEPA's statements and threat to continue enforcing their authority are borderline retaliatory.
"The OEPA and ODNR are both represented by the Attorney General's Office and the same environmental attorneys representing the OEPA represent ODNR. So if ODNR comes after Patriot now, then it becomes apparent that they're sharing clients with different interests."
Blocksom expressed exasperation Friday over Nally's statement, saying the court was clear on Nally's authority.
"That's why the court ruled this way, and why this guy is now trying to defy the court, because he lost," Blocksom said. "Now he's slandering my business because he hates to lose and it's getting to the point where it's really ridiculous."
He said the ruling is clear, and he intends to resume his business. Blocksom said eight employees were back at work Thursday out of 10 that were laid off April 1.
Bott and Blocksom pointed out that OEPA's only legal course of enforcement would have to be focused on water quality standards. Bott said, and the ruling reflects, that no evidence has been presented suggesting water quality standards as a result of Patriot sending their water to Warren.
Fifteen of 25 employees remained at work to keep the facility clean and ready to resume work assuming Patriot prevailed in their appeal. Blocksom said his clients have millions of gallons of water stored up since before April and he has already begun accepting water again and expects to begin discharging next week.
"I just want to express my thanks to Mayor Doug Franklin, Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa and the law director, Greg Hicks. Because of the efforts of the mayor and the others, the city of will recognize income of half a million a year that could prevent increases in water and sewer rates," Blocksom said.
Franklin also weighed in Friday.
"Obviously we value EPA's commitment to the environment, but we're glad that ERAC did a thorough investigation of the situation, and we're glad with their ruling," he said.