Do As It Says, Not As It Does: Lawsuit Claims EPA Broke Its Own Rules


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Chris White Tech Reporter
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A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated one of its own rules when it nixed several rivers and ponds from its impaired water list.

A handful of conservation organizations allege the EPA violated the Clean Water Act when the agency removed 53 tributaries and waterways from the Total Maximum Daily Load (TDML), which limits the amount of pollutants safely allowed in waterways.

“Pollution doesn’t just originate in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay,” Elizabeth Nicholas, the head of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, said in a statement Wednesday. “We have to look at all the smaller creeks and streams that are suffering impaired water quality throughout the watershed.”

The lawsuit alleges the Maryland Department of Environment, the agency pegged with administering the Clean Water Act in Maryland, removed them without due process. The move did not allow the public to voice its disapproval or approval.

The groups suggest the EPA’s move leaves the state’s waterways naked and vulnerable to increased levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

“EPA’s action affects creeks, wetlands, ponds, and rivers that run through nearly all of the watersheds in seventeen counties in Maryland and Baltimore City,” the lawsuit states.

It continued: “The de-listed segments suffer localized water quality problems, including harmful algal blooms, excessive sediment plumes, oxygen depletion due to pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus and fish die-offs …”

The complainants request the EPA’s decision be whisked away, thereby allowing the state to usurp the agency’s decision, putting the waterways back on the TDML.

Among the complainants in the lawsuit are Blue Water Baltimore, Chester River Association and Waterkeepers Chesapeake in Takoma Park.

The groups claim the EPA’s decision to “arbitrarily and unlawfully” jettison the waterways from the list places more pressure on them.

“It puts the burden on us, the advocacy organizations, to demonstrate the bay TMDL isn’t working for our local waterways,” David Flores, a spokesman for Blue Water Baltimore, told reporters. “It’s undertaking scientifically rigorous water monitoring and that’s not cheap.”

The EPA’s decision to remove the Maryland’s tributaries from its list comes on the heels of the EPA’s now-defunct Waters of the United States Rule, a rule critics say yokes more waterways, not less, under EPA control.

The EPA argued at the time that the so-called Clean Water Rule restores protections for navigable waterways and their tributaries.

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