EPA About Face: Finally proposes limits on federal sludge dumping
Press release from National Wilderness
"EPA's announcement is a confession that the federal government's
midnight sludge dumping in the nation's capital violates the Endangered
Species and Clean Water Acts. The new draft permit is a good first
but the devil will be in the details and serious questions remain,
including why EPA had to be compelled to stop something they knew
illegal," said Rob Gordon of the National Wilderness Institute.
comments followed EPA's announcement that it would be issuing a revised
Clean Water Act permit for the Washington Aqueduct.
NWI, a conservation group, has led the effort to stop sludge discharges
from the Washington Aqueduct into the Potomac with suits filed against
the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies in
District Court for violations of the Clean Water and Endangered Species
Acts. The Washington Aqueduct, operated by the Corps and permitted
EPA, provides drinking water to the Washington Metropolitan Area.
Corps generates thousands of tons of sludge in its treatment process
that contain aluminum, arsenic, lead and numerous other harmful
pollutants. Unlike other drinking water treatment plants, the Corps
dumps the sludge into the Potomac.
"We're encouraged that EPA appears to have reversed direction
permit they proposed last March that would have allowed continued
dumping with no limits. But I would remind you that in 1996 they
proposed a permit that limited the discharge of sludge and then withdrew
it even though an internal EPA document referred to the discharges
'the most toxic Iíve seen,'" said Gordon.
Although shortnose sturgeon, an endangered species, have recently
verified in the Potomac River, federal agencies have until now refused
to give them the kind of protection endangered species get elsewhere.
After arguing in U.S. District Court that there was no evidence that
endangered sturgeon would be harmed by the discharges, the National
Marine Fisheries Service issued a Biological Opinion on November 5,
that concludes future sludge discharges during spawning season will
endangered sturgeon in the Potomac's Little Falls area. Every year,
millions of tons of sludge are discharged ? usually at night ? across
the C & O Canal National Historic Park and into the Potomac River
Little Falls, an area that federal biologists have described as the
primary if not only Potomac spawning ground for the endangered sturgeon.
NWI's lawsuits under both the Endangered Species Act and the Clean
Act seek to protect the sturgeon, the Potomac River and Chesapeake
from the federal government's sludge discharges. NWI recently prevailed
in a discovery motion that the Department of Justice sought to block
is awaiting delivery of documents related to its endangered species
lawsuit from several federal agencies. In his October 9, 2002 ruling
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan stated, "Ö the Court
convinced that the plaintiff has shown that the agency may have excluded
evidence adverse to its case."
NWI filed an additional Notice of Intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps
Engineers for violations of the Clean Water Act on November 21, 2002.
The notice details dozens of violations including illegal discharges
arsenic, lead and mercury. The notice also raises serious questions
about EPA's failure to regulate this facility and the manner in which
the Corps has handled its required environmental reporting.
The National Wilderness Institute (NWI) is a Washington-based
conservation organization that seeks to educate the public about
environmental issues. More information is available at nwi.org.