A federal court today ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the District of Columbia, and Maryland had failed to set pollution caps adequate to assure cleanup of the filth polluting the Anacostia River. Decrying years of delay and “deliberate indifference” to cleaning up the river, the Court set a one year deadline for adopting caps adequate to make the river fit for recreational use and aesthetic enjoyment.
The ruling came in a suit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Anacostia Riverkeeper and Friends of the Earth. The suit argued that existing caps for sediment pollution in the Anacostia were too weak to clean up the visible filth that often mars the river’s appearance.
“This is a big win for people who dream of a clear and beautiful Anacostia River,” said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez. “The Court ruled that pollution caps need to make the river clean enough for enjoyment by people who walk along its shores and boat its waters. The EPA, the District, and Maryland will now have to address head on the visible filth that mars the Anacostia for much of the year.”
The Court rejected EPA’s argument that the pollution caps only needed to be strong enough to protect the growth of submerged vegetation, holding that the Clean Water Act also required protection of the river’s recreational and aesthetic values. The Court said that it “will not countenance” the failure by the EPA, the District, and Maryland to provide all the required protections.
The sediment pollution caps at issue were adopted in 2007, only after years of litigation by Earthjustice to force their issuance. As the Court noted, “the District and EPA spent 20 years ignoring [their] obligations and fighting attempts to compel them to act.”
The sediment caps, called “total maximum daily loads” or “TMDLs,’ are required to set a daily limit on the amount of sediment allowed in the river. Once these caps are in place, the District and Maryland have to require pollution controls adequate to ensure the caps are met.
More than 5 billion gallons of stormwater and sewage pollution drain into the Anacostia River each year, carrying with it the trash, silt, and chemical residue from the river’s 176-square mile watershed. Efforts to cleanup of this pollution have been slow and half-hearted, the groups contend.
The court decision was issued Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.