Earthjustice Criticizes DC's Pollution Standards for Anacostia River

Proposal doesn't come to grips with river's oil and grease problem, violates Clean Water Act




Cat Lazaroff, x213

Earthjustice today submitted formal comments criticizing the D.C. Department of Health’s proposal for controlling oil and grease discharges into the Anacostia River. The public interest environmental law firm has worked for a decade to protect the river and contends that the pollution standards proposed by the agency violate the Clean Water Act and won’t solve the river’s oil and grease problem.

The river is currently so severely polluted that the government warns District of Columbia area residents of health risks from swimming or fishing in its waters. The Clean Water Act requires EPA to address the continuing pollution problems plaguing the Anacostia by approving or establishing “total maximum daily loads” (TMDLs) for various pollutants. These pollutant loads must be set at a level necessary to bring the Anacostia into full compliance with water quality standards.

In comments submitted today, Earthjustice shows that the proposed TMDL for oil and grease is inadequate to achieve compliance with the applicable standards. During rains, oil and grease is washed from streets and business sites, and enters the river through stormwater outfall pipes. Once in the river, oil and grease kills aquatic life and causes unsightly sheens on the water’s surface, impairing the river’s value for recreation. The TMDL proposed by D.C. contains no limits on oil and grease, and doesn’t include control measures adequate to correct the problem.

“The Anacostia has the potential to become the District’s crown jewel, but instead it’s one of the Nation’s most polluted rivers,” said Howard Fox of Earthjustice. “Congress passed the Clean Water Act with the goal of making every waterway fishable and swimmable. Now, 30 years later, we have a river flowing through the heart of the nation’s capital that still falls drastically short of that goal.”

Although the Anacostia has suffered high pollution levels for decades, local and federal environmental agencies have not taken the actions needed to make the river suitable for recreational use and aquatic life. Earthjustice filed suit last year on behalf of Friends of the Earth challenging TMDLs for dissolved oxygen and suspended solids. The case (Friends of the Earth v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Docket Nos. 02-1123 and 02-1124) is still pending in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Also, last month Earthjustice submitted comments pointing out inadequacies in key Anacostia River TMDLs for bacteria and toxics.


Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.