Louisiana's Polluted Waters on the Way to Recovery

A federal judge ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stop the pollution that makes Louisiana waters unfishable and unswimmable.


Eric Huber, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, 504-522-1394

In a decision delivered late on Friday, a federal judge has turned the tide on water pollution in Louisiana. Judge Mary Ann Lemmon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop the pollution that makes Louisiana waters unfishable and unswimmable. The final federal judgment comes three 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 set limits on the pollution that winds up in state rivers, lakes, and bayous. EPA was forced to assume responsibility when the state of Louisiana refused to do so.

Environmentalists hailed the judge’s order. “Our lawsuit is a long overdue victory that will protect our waters for generations to come,” said Eric Huber, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “The Judge’s order brings a new day for Louisiana that sets a priority on restoring our waters by requiring changes in wastewater discharge permitting to achieve pollution limits.”

The federal judgment establishes a schedule for the EPA to follow in setting pollution limits on Louisiana’s impaired waters. According to the judgment, polluted waterbodies in the coastal region are required to have pollution limits as early as December 31st of this year. In each of the next seven years pollution limits are to be established on a biasi-by-basin approach until all the waters are addressed. Each waterbody must meet its pollution limit no later than three years after the limits are set.

The judgment 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.

“The judge’s order sends a strong message to environmental regulators, who have been fighting their obligations under the law. No more business as usual. Every permitting decision, every analysis of water quality, must all ensure that our waters become fishable and swimmable,” said Huber, who has been successful in bringing similar lawsuits in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama.

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