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Love that Dirty Water: Romney Water Pollution Record

Hundreds of Corporate Waivers to Dump Toxics into Massachusetts Water Supply


As Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney gave industrial wastewater dischargers free rein to discharge chemicals into municipal treatment systems unable to filter them out of the Commonwealth's waters, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Industries with high quotients of toxics in their wastewater, such as manufacturers, carpet cleaners and laboratories, did not even have to monitor chemicals deposited in their wastewater.

Under Romney and his two Republican predecessors, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allowed industries to discharge 1.4 million gallons of wastewater per day into municipal sewage plants without monitoring or permitting. In 2006, PEER obtained copies of 278 "forbearance" letters from DEP telling companies that they need not even apply for sewer permits.

When PEER revealed the fact that this forbearance practice violated the Clean Water Act Regulations, the Romney administration abruptly proposed regulatory changes to formally exempt 90% of industrial sewer dischargers without even determining the amount of toxic chemicals in their wastewater. Only after the threat of a lawsuit, the Romney administration finally agreed to a number of new rules that would require dischargers to report toxics to DEP and the sewage treatment plants.

The Romney team, however, left it to the incoming Patrick Administration to establish the precise rules for industrial toxics discharge reporting. A number of other key problems, such as allowing large new subdivisions to hook up to failing sewer systems, were also left to the next governor to sort out.

"When it came to protecting our drinking water supplies, Mitt Romney was missing in inaction," stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a lawyer and biologist formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "His posture was first to pretend to ignore pollution, then propose to legalize it, and, finally, when he had no other option, punt to his successor."

Ironically, Massachusetts defers to the EPA to administer its Clean Water Act programs, leaving a minor state role in overseeing public wastewater treatment. With no action on the issue, Massachusetts continued to suffer from poor water quality. Thus, during Romney's tenure only 9 percent of its rivers and streams were known to be safe for all their intended uses, such as fishing and swimming, compared with a national average of nearly 60 percent. Similarly, only a fifth of the Commonwealth's lakes were safe for fishing or swimming.

"Clean water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource in America, presenting a leadership challenge for the next president," Bennett added, noting that this report is part of a set of in-depth analyses that PEER is preparing of Romney actions on air pollution, environmental enforcement, toxic clean-ups, land use and transparency, among other topics. "Unfortunately, the Romney track record does not inspire the least bit of confidence that with him occupying the Oval Office we will reverse water pollution trends."

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.