Clean Water Advocates Challenge EPA on Inadequate Clean Water Permit

Permit fails to ensure District rivers will meet water quality goals


Jennifer Chavez, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 5208

A group of clean water advocates filed an appeal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board late Friday seeking to have them revise a permit that fails to meet the District’s own legal requirements for clean water.

Early last month EPA’s Region 3 office issued a long-overdue and flawed permit aimed at regulating pollution discharges from storm sewers in the nation’s capital. Polluted storm water discharges in the District have long plagued the Anacostia, Potomac and Rock Creek rivers and their tributaries in the District with excessive bacteria, metals, suspended solids, oil and grease, and many other pollutants. The permit contains significant new requirements since it was last renewed in 2004, which includes the reduction of polluted stormwater discharges to a certain extent and increasing green infrastructure in the District, but the groups contend that it stops short of what is required by law and needed to fully clean up the District’s waters.

Public interest law firm Earthjustice is representing Friends of the Earth, Anacostia Riverkeeper, and Potomac Riverkeeper in this appeal. The Natural Resources Defense Council also is a petitioner and is serving as co-counsel with Earthjustice.

“Pollution controls in the rivers that flow through our nation’s capital ought to be a model for the rest of the country,” said Jennifer Chavez, Earthjustice attorney. “EPA has stated that this permit can be used as a model for other jurisdictions in the country, but this permit simply does not go far enough. This is not an acceptable model for other cities around the country.”

In 2002, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board ordered EPA’s Region 3 to strengthen an earlier version of the permit to ensure compliance with the District’s standards. Yet the recently released permit still fails to ensure compliance with the district’s water quality standards.

“Our goal is to achieve clean rivers and streams that District residents can enjoy without fear of illness, and that support a vibrant community of aquatic life,” said Rebecca Hammer, an attorney with NRDC. “To get there, we need the Region to adhere to the law and strengthen certain provisions in the permit.”

“In order for the Anacostia River to recover from its current state, the EPA needs to issue a storm water permit that has some teeth,” said Anacostia Riverkeeper Mike Bolinder.

“Stopping uncontrolled storm water is critical for our watershed, and it requires time-sensitive, enforceable implementation,” said Potomac Riverkeeper Ed Merrifield. “This permit falls short of the mark.”

“After more than a decade of fighting for strong storm water controls in the District, we are calling on the Region to get serious about issuing a strong permit that protects public health and water quality,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels project director at Friends of the Earth.

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.