Monday, October 15, 2007

Egregious Violations of Clean Water Act Mark Its 35th Anniversary

by U.S. PIRG
October 11, 2007

More than 57 percent of industrial and municipal facilities across America discharged more pollution into our waterways than their Clean Water Act permits allowed in 2005, according to Troubled Waters: An analysis of Clean Water Act compliance, a new report released today by U.S. PIRG.

“As the Clean Water Act turns 35, polluters continue to foul our rivers, lakes and streams,” said U.S. PIRG Clean Water Advocate Christy Leavitt. “With so many facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that nearly half of America’s waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing. But we should be outraged.”

The goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act are to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into waterways and make all U.S. waters swimmable and fishable. Over the last three and a half decades, this landmark environmental law has made significant improvements in water quality, but the original goals have yet to be met.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. PIRG obtained data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on facilities’ compliance with the Clean Water Act in 2005. U.S. PIRG researchers found that:

  • Fifty seven percent of all major U.S. industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution into U.S. waterways than allowed by law at least once during 2005.

  • The average facility exceeded its pollution permit limit by 263 percent, discharging close to four times the legal limit.

  • The 3600 major facilities exceeding their permit limits reported more than 24,400 exceedances of their Clean Water Act permits in 2005. This means that many facilities exceeded their permits more than once and for more than one pollutant.

  • Nationally, 628 major facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits for at least half of the monthly reporting periods between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2005. Eighty-five facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits during every reporting period.

  • The ten U.S. states with the highest percentages of major facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once are Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Ohio, Connecticut, New York, North Dakota, California, and West Virginia.

  • The ten U.S. states with the most exceedances of Clean Water Act permit limits during 2005 period are Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.

Leavitt noted that the findings are likely “just the tip of the polluted iceberg,” since the data that U.S. PIRG analyzed includes only “major” facilities and does not include pollution discharged into waters by the thousands of minor facilities across the country.

“Although we have made enormous strides since the enactment of the Clean Water Act, efforts to clean up America’s waters have stalled -- even slipped -- under the stewardship of the Bush Administration. In the past several years, the Federal government has let down municipalities’ efforts to protect watersheds, provide safe drinking water, and make recreational water sources fishable and swimmable,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar (Minn.), Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “We are at a turning point in history, and our responsibility to this generation and our legacy to future generations is to advance the cause of protecting the most precious of natural resources – clean water.”

Over the last six years, the Bush administration has proposed or enacted numerous policies that weaken the Clean Water Act. These include: two separate policies that eliminate Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands that feed and clean treasured lakes, rivers and bays; and funding cuts to EPA’s budget, including significant cuts to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the main federal funding source to help communities upgrade their sewage treatment systems.

U.S. PIRG called on the Bush administration to reverse policies that weaken federal clean water safeguards and strengthen enforcement of the Clean Water Act. In addition, the group called on Congress to pass the Clean Water Restoration Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure all U.S. waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.

U.S. PIRG applauded Representatives Oberstar, Vernon Ehlers (Mich.) and John Dingell (Mich.) and Senator Russell Feingold (Wis.) for sponsoring the Clean Water Restoration Act. U.S. PIRG urged other Representatives and Senators to mark the anniversary of the Clean Water Act by cosponsoring this important clean water bill.

“Rather than holding polluters accountable, the Bush administration is allowing more—not less-- pollution to enter our waterways. Now more than ever, Congress should act to protect all of America’s waters and pass the Clean Water Restoration Act,” concluded Leavitt.

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