February 28, 2006

Beware the DeathSTAR

While city leaders try to take giant leaps into the future — multi-million dollar arena, bridges, tangled superhighways, dedicated green spaces, all ostensibly angled to attract and retain inhabitants — state legislators took one colossal step backward on the quality of life scale Monday. The Senate passed SB 39, which, if passed by the House, will prohibit Louisville from enacting environmental policies that are more stringent than state or federal regulations, unless the Metro Council votes otherwise.

The bill will kill the Strategic Toxic Air Reduction program — STAR — which was developed after a study of Louisville’s air found that long-term exposure posed an unacceptably high risk for certain diseases. The EPA also rated Louisville’s air worst in the southeast United States. Not exactly selling points for the Creative Class.

Metro Council would retain the right to pass stricter air quality standards if it can muster a three-fifths majority vote. That means STAR could stick around longer than the Dec. 31 expiration date the bill imposes.
Mayor Abramson has supported STAR from the beginning. Officials from his office met yesterday in Frankfort to discuss the bill with legislators, spokesman Chad Carlton said.

“We’re working in good faith, we hope, with all those concerned, and hope that the product that comes out of the legislature achieves those goals that we set out, which were to deal with the problem of toxic air in the community, to do it in a way that protects jobs and economic development, and thirdly, to make sure that local folks retain the right to have a say about improving air quality,” he said.

STAR opponents argue it inhibits industrial growth and business expansion. The notion that Ford Motor Co. will leave Louisville if STAR remains — floated by the head of the United Auto Workers union — has not been substantiated. Carlton said Ford officials, in meetings with the mayor, have never linked job reductions or problems with future expansion to STAR.