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Ky. lawmaker’s bill would limit Louisville pollution regulator’s powers

Kentucky Resources Council advocates tell lawmakers why they oppose House Bill 136.
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LRC
Kentucky Resources Council advocates tell lawmakers why they oppose House Bill 136 as Rep. Jared Bauman of Louisville, who is sponsoring the bill, looks to the corner of the hearing room on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.

A Kentucky GOP House Representative who has worked for a chemical company in Louisville’s Rubbertown is sponsoring legislation that would strip local air pollution regulators of the ability to issue some fines to industries like his own.

House Bill 136 would stop the Louisville Air Pollution Control District (APCD) from issuing fines to companies that voluntarily disclose violations. The fines fund air quality programs and enforcement efforts across Jefferson County, including the city’s industrial corridor known as Rubbertown.

Republican Rep. Jared Bauman, of Louisville, is the sponsor of the bill, which passed out of committee Thursday and now heads to the House floor for a vote.

A LinkedIn profile bearing Bauman’s name and likeness states that he has worked at the specialty chemical company known as the Lubrizol Corporation for more than a decade. Similarly, a Bauman campaign website says he works as “continuous improvement manager” at a “leading specialty chemical company.”

This photo is a screenshot of Rep. Jared Bauman's LinkedIn profile from Jan. 18, 2024.
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LinkedIn
A screenshot of Rep. Jared Bauman's LinkedIn profile from Jan. 18, 2024.

Lubrizol Advanced Materials is located in the heart of Rubbertown and falls under the regulatory authority of Louisville’s APCD. But when Bauman was asked about his employment during a committee hearing Thursday, the Louisville representative declined to name his employer saying “I don’t think that’s relevant.”

“I do work in industry in Louisville,” he said. “Before ever pursuing this bill I contacted our ethics division, and they said it is absolutely compliant with the ethics policy.”

Bauman said the bill would allow companies that self report pollution or other infractions and make the necessary corrections to avoid civil penalties similar to current state law. Bauman was joined by the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers lobbyist Rusty Cress who shared Bauman’s thoughts on the legislation.

“This bill merely creates consistency between the other 119 counties, the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] and Jefferson County,” Cress said.

The Louisville APCD was created in the 1950s to measure and regulate air pollution because of the soot, smoke and other pollution that at times blackened the skies of the city.

As recently as 2017, a Louisville study found people in west Louisville had shorter lifespans in part due to environmental pollution. Over the last few decades the city, APCD and the companies themselves have worked to reduce toxic air pollution in areas like Rubbertown, but the pollution that remains continues to disproportionately impact lower-income residents and people of color.

Today APCD oversees heavy industry like Lubrizol and the Swift Pork Company that operates a slaughterhouse in Butchertown.

At Swift for example, Louisville air quality regulators found the company frequently failed to perform odor surveys or monitor and record readings on odor-control equipment. Swift self-reported some violations while regulators found others and responded to community complaints. That resulted in Swift agreeing to pay nearly $45,000 in fines spanning from 2018 to 2021 with no admission of guilt.

The APCD itself remains neutral on the legislation, according to a spokesperson.

Environmental advocates at the nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council opposed Bauman’s measure saying the change could reward bad corporate behavior that puts community health at risk.

Staff attorney Audrey Ernstberger said the legislation could give companies “essentially a free pass” to violate the law so long as they self-report and correct it in a timely manner.

“We fear that the law could disincentivize industries from taking steps to eliminate violations, seeing as they won’t face penalty. And also further perpetuate environmental injustices born by some Kentucky communities,” she said.

Ernstberger also said the bill could compromise the state’s ability to regulate companies under the U.S. Clean Air Act. Part of the Clean Air Act delegates its authority to states to regulate air quality.

When Kentucky passed a law to regulate air quality in the 1990s, the EPA issued the state a notice of deficiency for its decision to defer civil penalties when companies voluntarily disclose violations, Ernstberger said. That’s the same thing House Bill 136 would do to APCD’s authority to issue fines.

The EPA said in the notice of deficiency that it could take back the state’s authority to administer the Title 5 program as a result, she said.

“This is the scenario that we feel this bill as drafted could create,” Ernstberger said.

The Kentucky Resources Council has also sent a letter to the EPA asking for a review of the state law.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.