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US PIRG

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 23, 2006
10:04 AM

CONTACT: US PIRG
Christy Leavitt, (202) 546-9707

 
Polluters Contaminating America’s Waters: 62 Percent Exceed Pollution Limits in Recent 18-Month Period
 

WASHINGTON - March 23 - More than 62 percent of industrial and municipal facilities across the country discharged more pollution into U.S. waterways than their Clean Water Act permits allowed between July 2003 and December 2004, according to "Troubled Waters: An Analysis Of Clean Water Act Compliance", a new report released today by U.S. PIRG.

“Polluters are using America’s waters as their dumping ground. Instead of solving the problem, the Bush administration has repeatedly shortchanged the EPA’s budget and is undermining essential clean water programs,” said U.S. PIRG Clean Water Advocate Christy Leavitt.

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has made significant strides in cleaning up U.S. waterways. Unfortunately, the law’s goals of eliminating the discharge of pollutants into waterways by 1985 and making all U.S. waters safe for fishing, swimming and other uses by 1983 have not been met. Today, more than 40 percent of U.S. waterways are unsafe for these basic activities.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. PIRG obtained data on major facilities’ compliance with their National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004. U.S. PIRG researchers found that polluters repeatedly exceeded their permit limits, often by egregious amounts.

Among the findings of the report:

Nationally, 62 percent of all major industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution into U.S. waterways than their permits allow at least once during the 18-month period studied.

The average facility discharged pollution in excess of its permit limit by more than 275 percent, or almost four times the legal limit.

Nationally, 436 major facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits for at least half of the monthly reporting periods between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004. Thirty-five facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits during every reporting period.

The 3,700 major facilities exceeding their permit limits reported more than 29,000 exceedances of their Clean Water Act permit limits. This means that many facilities exceeded their permits more than once and for more than one pollutant.

The ten U.S. states with the most exceedances of Clean Water Act permit limits during this time period are Ohio, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

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

“All Americans deserve clean water to drink and safe places to swim and fish. To clean up our waterways, this continuing pollution must stop,” said Leavitt. “In addition, the Bush Administration and Congress should fully fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help communities upgrade their clean water systems.”

Leavitt noted that the findings are likely conservative, since the data that U.S. PIRG analyzed includes only “major” facilities and does not include pollution discharged into waters by the hundreds of thousands of minor facilities across the country. In addition, facilities in California, Oregon and Washington were not included in the report as a result of unreliable data.

U.S. PIRG called on the Bush administration to back off its efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act, including withdrawing its 2003 policy directive that eliminates Clean Water Act protections for many small streams, wetlands and other waters around the country, and to commit to strengthening enforcement of this landmark legislation.

In addition, U.S. PIRG applauded Representatives Oberstar, Boehlert, Dingell and Leach, and Senator Feingold for spearheading the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act, which ensures all U.S. waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and called for all members of Congress to support protecting America’s waters by cosponsoring this important bill.

In order to achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act, U.S. PIRG recommended federal and state officials do the following:

• Increase EPA Funding to put more environmental cops on the beat to identify and punish polluters violating their Clean Water Act permits, and to fully fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help communities upgrade their sewer systems.

• Protect all U.S. waters by withdrawing the Bush administration’s 2003 “No Protection” policy which excludes many small streams and wetlands from protection under the Clean Water Act, and supporting passage of the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act.

• Strengthen the Clean Water Act by preventing polluters from profiting from pollution, tightening permitted pollution limits, revoking the permits of repeat violators, and ensuring citizens full access to the courts.

“To protect public health and the environment, the Bush administration and state officials must hold polluters accountable to their Clean Water Act pollution limits,” concluded U.S. PIRG’s Leavitt.

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