Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, and Defenders of Wildlife today hailed as a step in the right direction a federal appeals decision that will help clean polluted waterways in the District of Columbia. In its decision delivered to attorneys late yesterday, a federal appeals board ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Water Act by failing to adequately protect DC’s rivers from polluted storm water runoff. At issue was an EPA permit that was supposed to limit the District’s discharge of contaminated runoff into DC waterways.
Earthjustice had appealed the permit on behalf of Friends of the Earth and Defenders of Wildlife more than a year ago arguing that it failed to protect water quality standards and contained other major defects. The appeals board agreed with Earthjustice that EPA had not met its duty to assure protection of water quality standards. The board also ruled that the permit illegally allows changes in storm water control requirements without public notice and opportunity to comment, and improperly allows the District to waive storm water pollution rules. Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife and Friends of the Earth in the case.
“The decision is a great victory for clean water in the District of Columbia,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “The time has come to make our rivers safe our children and families to use and enjoy.” As a result of the Board’s decision, EPA must now ensure that the permit will reduce contamination enough to comply with water quality standards
“This decision will reverberate through rivers, lakes, and streams across America,” said Dr. Brent Blackwelder, President of Friends of the Earth. “Linking storm sewer permits to water quality standards is an essential step toward making our waterways safe for swimming and fishing.”
Polluted runoff carried by the District’s separate storm sewer system is one of the major sources of water pollution in the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, Rock Creek, and other area rivers. Rainfall washes pollution into the sewer system from industrial yards, construction sites, roads, parking lots, and other paved areas. Bacteria, toxic metals, pesticides, oil, grease, and organic chemicals all seep into the water systems through this process.
The Clean Water Act required the District more than ten years ago to obtain an EPA permit limiting these discharges. However, as a result of delays by both the DC government and EPA, a final permit wasn’t issued until April 2000. Earthjustice contends that the final permit required little in the way of concrete new measures to attack the runoff problem and it did not assure compliance with water quality standards. In fact, the District’s own data showed that the limited programs required by the permit would hardly reduce pollution at all.
Earthjustice contends that many measures are available to attack this problem including; stronger runoff control rules for industrial yards and construction sites, stepped up rule enforcement, retrofitting of paved areas with vegetation to reduce and filter runoff, hi-tech street sweeping, and reduced use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals.
To see the entire appeals board decision, click here