Environmental groups in states along the Gulf coast say the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Water Act by refusing to set state pollution standards to tackle the “dead zone” in the Gulf, a Massachusetts-sized area of incredibly low oxygen concentrations that can’t support aquatic life.
In separate federal lawsuits filed Tuesday, groups asked judges to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set base guidelines for state water quality standards and for wastewater treatment in the area. According to Courthouse News, the groups are seeking a judgment “ordering EPA to provide a response to plaintiffs’ petition within 90 days that is not ‘arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.’”
Currently the EPA doesn’t require wastewater treatment plants to filter out nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous — even though those nutrients are a large part of what’s choking the Gulf. The agency hasn’t set wastewater treatment guidelines since 1985, when the technology to remove nutrients was extremely expensive. It’s gotten cheaper, environmental experts say, and EPA needs to change its guidelines appropriately. “We believe that the technology exists and is affordable,” said Andrew Rota, director of science and water policy at the Gulf Restoration Network in a press conference.
The plaintiffs, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth), also want EPA regulators to set national rules for nutrient runoff from agriculture. Right now, states are left to set those guidelines themselves, but few really are, said Glynnis Collins, executive director of the Prairie Rivers Network. Of the ten states that flank the Mississippi, “only Wisconsin and Minnesota have taken action towards the problem,” Collins said.
EPA declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In a press conference held earlier this week, Matt Rota, director of science and water policy for the Gulf Restoration Network (one of the groups suing the EPA), said that the Mississippi River and the entire Gulf of Mexico “have long been treated as the nation’s sewer.”
The groups petitioned the EPA in 2007 for stronger wastewater treatment rules and in 2008 for water quality standards. Those petitions went unfulfilled.
In Florida, a set of standards to govern nutrient pollution in state waterways has garnered a considerable amount of controversy. The costs of implementing those criteria, and what their implementation could mean for business across the state, have been hotly debated.