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Environmental groups sue Allegheny County over use of clean air funds for building renovations

Theresa Clift
| Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 4:33 p.m.

Two environmental organizations have sued Allegheny 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.

Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council and Edgewood-based Group Against Smog And Pollution filed the lawsuit Monday in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.

“Allegheny County’s air quality is among the worst in the nation,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Clean Air Council’s executive director, in a news release. “The Health Department wants to use millions of dollars to renovate a county owned building instead of using this money to protect and improve Allegheny County’s air quality as the law setting up these funds requires. This is unacceptable and an illegal use of these funds.”

Ryan Scarpino, health department spokesman, declined comment on the lawsuit.

Fines paid by companies for violating air pollution regulations go into the funds.

The Clean Air Fund had a balance of $12. 1 million as of May. The county’s Board of Health in May authorized spending another $66,000 from the fund on the office, which is expected to be followed by a request in September seeking about $4.5 million from the fund for construction costs.

Department officials plan to take roughly the same amount from the Title V Air Quality Fund for the project.

Air Quality Program employees have outgrown its office at the Clack Health Complex in Lawrenceville, department officials said at the meeting.

The county’s rainy day fund is about $46 million, according to the latest budget, the news release pointed out. The organizations suggest using that money for the office renovations.

The county’s Air Quality Program is built to be self sustaining, not to accept money, said Jim Kelly, deputy director of environmental health, at the May meeting in response to activists’ raising that point.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has been growing the rainy day fund in order to achieve better credit ratings, he told the Trib in May.

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