American Wildlands, Pacific Rivers Council, Montana Environmental Information Center, and Northern Plains Resource Council learned this week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has disapproved portions of Montana's water quality standards. In a 30-page letter from EPA to Governor Marc Racicot, EPA disapproved almost a dozen water quality standards that fail to provide the minimum protections required by the Clean Water Act. Although EPA's action addresses only a portion of Montana's water quality rules, this is the first time since 1989 that EPA has formally passed judgment on any of the extensive changes made to Montana's water quality laws.
"We're pleased that EPA is stepping up to the plate closing the countless loopholes that weaken Montana's water quality protection laws," stated Rob Ament, Associate Director of American Wildlands. "Montana must now begin to protect its waters."
Among the standards that EPA disapproved are: (1) rules that exempt coal and uranium prospecting, oil and gas drilling and production, and mineral exploration from scientific and public review; (2) standards that allow polluters to foul even the State's most treasured waters, such as those flowing through National Parks and Wilderness areas; and (3) provisions that exempt activities such as pesticide application and sewage treatment from compliance with water quality laws.
EPA's action comes after the conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit in July, 1998 challenging EPA's failure to insure that Montana's water quality standards adequately protect the State's waters.
"While this first round of disapprovals doesn't address all of the problems with Montana's water quality standards, it's a step in the right direction," said Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney Steve Mashuda. "Under federal law, the State now has 90 days to correct the standards that EPA disapproved."
"Because many of the illegal standards were enacted by the legislature, EPA's disapproval gives them a narrow window of opportunity to get it right," stated Kristen Boyles of Pacific Rivers Council.
"Previous legislatures wouldn't listen to reason when they weakened these standards in the first place- many of the standards disapproved by EPA were enacted in the face of strong objections from citizens' groups," added Paul Hawks of Northern Plains Resource Council. "You can bet we'll be keeping a very close eye on the legislature's attempt to fix the standards disapproved by EPA."