In a decision delivered late yesterday, a federal judge has turned the tide on water pollution. Judge Mary Ann Lemmon, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop the pollution loading in Louisiana waters that make them unfishable and unswimmable. The court order comes two years after Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) that demanded the EPA place limits on the pollution that winds up in state rivers, lakes, and bayous. "The Judge's order protects the Mississippi River and many other water bodies by preventing pollution from all sources that make these waters unsafe for fishing or swimming," said Eric Huber, attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
"Our lawsuit brings an important victory for the people of Louisiana, who have not been able to enjoy or make a living from waters that were put off limits because of pollution," said Mary Lee Orr, Executive Director of LEAN. The lawsuit is based on a 1972 provision of the Clean Water Act that requires state environmental regulators to set water pollution limits by 1979. With over 250 segments of water bodies that fail to meet their designated use for fishing or swimming, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has been resistant to setting water pollution limits, called total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). According to the law, the state's failure to act triggers the EPA's duty to step in to establish and implement the total maximum daily loads for impaired water bodies. Judge Lemmon's order comes after the recommendation by a court-appointed Special Master that the EPA was legally obligated to set a schedule for establishing water pollution limits.
According to the court order, the EPA is now required to set a "reasonable schedule" for setting and implementing water pollution limits. "We look forward to the next phase of this lawsuit, which will be to ensure that the EPA implements those pollution controls in an accelerated fashion. When the Sierra Club brought a similar lawsuit against the EPA in Georgia, the court ordered a five year schedule -- we expect to have that or better for Louisiana," said Huber.