WASHINGTON - March 30 - More than 60 percent of industrial and municipal facilities across the country exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits between January 2002 and June 2003, and are doing so by an average of six times their legal limits, according to data obtained pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request and released in a new report today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).
"We need strong action to address this illegal pollution, but the Bush administration has instead proposed slashing the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) enforcement budget and weakening critical Clean Water Act programs," charged U.S. PIRG environmental advocate Richard Caplan. "At a time when our leaders should be looking for solutions, the Bush administration has proposed taking environmental cops off the beat and allowing morenot lesspollution into our waterways," continued Caplan.
"This report shows that facilities that are violating the law are doing it in a big way," added U.S. Representative John F. Tierney, Ranking Minority Member of the Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs. "This is further evidence that now is not the time to cut EPA's enforcement budget. We need to make sure that EPA and states, who have the responsibility for enforcing the Clean Water Act, have the resources they need to do be able to do their jobs effectively."
While the 1972 Clean Water Act has made strides in cleaning up U.S. waterways, the law's original goal of making all U.S. Waterways safe for fishing, swimming, and other uses by 1983 has not been attained. Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), U.S. PIRG obtained data on facilities' compliance with the Clean Water Act between January 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003. U.S. PIRG researchers found that:
Nationally, 60 percent of all major facilities discharged pollution in excess of their permit limits at least once during the 18-month period studied. The average facility in violation exceeded its permit limit by more than 600 percent, or six times the legal limit.
Nationally, 436 major facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits for at least 10 of the 18 reporting periods between January 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003.
Thirty-five (35) facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits during every reporting period between January 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003.
The 10 U.S. states with the most exceedances of Clean Water Act permit limits between January 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003 are Ohio, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, and Indiana.
The 10 U.S. States with the highest percentage of major facilities to exceed their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once are Rhode Island, New Hampshire, North Carolina, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Ohio, Iowa, and Nevada.
The 10 U.S. States with the highest average permit exceedance between January 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003 are Hawaii, Rhode Island, Arizona, West Virginia, Michigan, Connecticut, Nevada, Iowa, Texas and North Carolina.
Caplan noted that the report's findings are likely conservative, since the data analyzed includes only "major" facilities and does not include pollution discharged by hundreds of thousands of minor facilities across the country.
U.S. PIRG called on the Bush administration to back off its efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act and to commit to strengthening, rather than weakening, enforcement of this landmark legislation. To achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act, U.S. PIRG recommended the following:
Fully fund EPA's enforcement program to ensure that there are enough environmental cops on the beat to identify and punish polluters that violate their Clean Water Act permits.
Strengthen the Clean Water Act by setting mandatory minimum penalties, tightening permitted pollution limits, revoking permits from repeat violators and allowing citizens full access to the courts.
Maintain and expand the public's right to know. The public should have full access to detailed and easily searchable information about enforcement of the Clean Water Act and pollution entering local waterways.
"Now more than ever, the Bush administration should act in the best interest of the environment and public health and hold polluters accountable to the Clean Water Act," concluded U.S. PIRG's Caplan.