For years, U.S. municipal governments, corporations, and even the EPA have circumvented Clean Water Act safeguards against industrial pollution.
More than half of all city wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities in the United States exceeded pollution limits, according to a national report released last week by the activist group U.S. PIRG.
Fifty-seven percent of the 3,600 major facilities violated the Clean Water Act by dumping cyanide, mercury, coliform and other pollutants at least once in 2005 — and California is in the “top ten” list of violators.
Environmentalists say the EPA has been lax in enforcing the law, which in its defense says it continues to fine violators.
But questions persist as to whether a simple fine is enough to get a facility to clean up — and whether the agency itself is serious about enforcement.
The EPA may grant a request by San Diego to avoid upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and exemption that would save the city $1.5 billion over the next five years, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The city’s Point Loma wastewater plant is the largest in the country that does not meet Clean Water Act standards for oceanbound effluent, and is in line for its third compliance waiver.
Carlota Copper in Arizona may not be so lucky.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the company would have to clean up all the pollution it created during previous operations along Pinto Creek, in Arizona, before opening a new mine.
Pinto Creek is already listed under the Clean Water Act because of a legacy of copper mining; according to the Associated Press, the company had offered to clean up the discharge from one defunct mine in the area to compensate for their own anticipated pollution.
The court invalidated that logic, and ruled that the EPA should never have issued the permit in the first place.
In Gary, Indiana, environmental lawyers and former federal regulators are raising an alarm over a steel mill wastewater permit that does not restrict any toxic materials the company is proposing to dump in the Grand Calumet River.
The permit, issued to U.S. Steel by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, requires only that the company report how much benzene, lead, arsenic, oil and grease it intends to dump.
The permit also “relaxes” the limit on chromium, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The company, known for being the biggest polluter in the Lake Michigan basin, is not the only recipient of such favorable treatment in Indiana
The Environmental Management Department also provoked controversy earlier this year when it allowed a nearby BP refinery to increase its pollution discharge into Lake Michigan.
“Pollution pouring into nation’s waters far beyond legal limits”
San Francisco Chronicle, October 12, 2007
“Indiana seeks to ease rules for lake polluter”
Chicago Tribune, October 12, 2007
“Report: Plant shows no ‘adverse impacts'”
San Diego Union-Tribune, October 11, 2007
“Ariz.: appeals court tosses permit”
Associated Press, October 5, 2007