Water Polluters Beware: EPA Plans to Enforce Clean Water Act
WASHINGTON, DC, October 15,2009 (ENS) – At a Congressional hearing today held to mark the 37th year since passage of the Clean Water Act, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the agency is stepping up its efforts to enforce the law.
The EPA’s new Clean Water Action Enforcement Plan is a first step in revamping the compliance and enforcement program. Jackson said the plan seeks to improve the protection of water quality, raise the bar in federal and state performance and enhance public transparency.
“The safety of the water that we use in our homes – the water we drink and give to our children – is of paramount importance to our health and our environment. Having clean and safe water in our communities is a right that should be guaranteed for all Americans,” Jackson told a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing.
Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota, who chairs the committee, said threats to water quality are different from those of 1972 when the law was enacted and “the Tidal Basin, a few hundred feet from the Nation’s Capitol, was bubbling and foaming over with raw sewage and toxic waste.”
Congressman James Oberstar (Photo courtesy Public Citizen)
Still, Oberstar said, U.S. waters are in worse shape after eight years of the Bush administration.
“The actions of the Bush Administration completely undermined the nation’s progress in protecting water quality, and has left us with the challenge of rebuilding our Clean Water program from the ground up,” he said.
“Between 2001 and 2009, this Committee issued numerous reports criticizing the prior Administration for cutting Federal and State resources to implement the Clean Water Act, and for the EPA failing to provide a credible Clean Water Act enforcement program,” said Oberstar.
“The Committee documented time and time again numerous cases where reduced funding for Clean Water Act programs directly affected the water quality programs of the states,” the chairman said. “Similarly, a joint memorandum issued in late 2008 by myself, and Chairman Waxman of the Committee on Oversight and Government reform detailed the drastic deterioration of EPA’s enforcement program during the Bush Administration.”
“Simply put,” Oberstar said, “the deterioration of the Clean Water Act enforcement program has set back our progress in achieving the central goals of the Clean Water Act.”
Nonpoint source pollution off the Florida coast (Photo courtesy National Ocean Service)
“Data from the EPA shows that many major facilities with Clean Water Act permits violate their permits over and over again, apparently with no fear of retribution,” said Eddie Bernice Johnson, who chairs the committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
“In 2005, well over half of all major facilities in this country illegally discharged pollution into our waterways,” she said. “These facilities reported almost 25,000 instances of such discharges, which included harmful bacteria, pathogens, and heavy metals, such as mercury and arsenic. Yet there are very few enforcement actions on record for any of these facilities.”
The plan Jackson announced today outlines how the EPA will strengthen the way it addresses current water pollution challenges caused by numerous, dispersed sources, such as concentrated animal feeding operations, sewer overflows, contaminated water that flows from industrial facilities, construction sites, and runoff from urban streets.
Over the last 30 years, EPA clean water enforcement focused mostly on pollution from the biggest individual sources, such as factories and sewage treatment plants. But now, instead of roughly 100,000 traditional point sources to regulate there are nearly one million dispersed sources such as animal feeding operations and storm water runoff.
Many of U.S. waters are not meeting water quality standards, and the threat to drinking water sources is growing, the EPA says.
The goals of the new plan are to target enforcement to the most significant pollution problems, improve transparency and accountability by providing the members of the public with access to better data on the water quality in their communities, and strengthen enforcement performance at the state and federal levels.
EPA intends to develop more comprehensive approaches to ensure enforcement is targeted to the most serious violations and the most significant sources of pollution.
The agency will work with states to ensure greater consistency throughout the country with respect to compliance and water quality. The EPA says it intends to ensure that states are issuing protective permits and taking enforcement to achieve compliance and remove economic incentives to violate the law.
The EPA says it will use 21st century information technology to collect, analyze and use information in new, more efficient ways and to make that information readily accessible to the public. Better tools will help federal and state regulators identify serious compliance problems quickly and take prompt actions to correct them.
Jackson said, “Updating our efforts under the Clean Water Act will promote innovative solutions for 21st century water challenges, build stronger ties between EPA, state, and local actions, and provide the transparency the public rightfully expects.”