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Great Lakes Article:

Report: One Third of Industry Is Violating Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - Almost 30 percent of the nation's largest industrial, municipal and federal facilities were in serious violation of the Clean Water Act at least once during a recent 15 month period, a new report concludes.

"Permit to Pollute: How the Government's Lax Enforcement of the Clean Water Act is Poisoning Our Waters" describes shortcomings in the monitoring of water pollution and efforts to deter polluters. The study's authors at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) say the report points out the folly of Bush administration proposals to slash the enforcement budget at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"It is outrageous that the Bush Administration is proposing to slash enforcement budgets when nearly 30 percent of polluting facilities are breaking the law," said U.S. PIRG environmental advocate Richard Caplan. "With widespread violations of the law, this is no time for the Bush administration to take cops off the beat."

Using the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. PIRG obtained and analyzed the behavior of major facilities nationwide by reviewing violations of the Clean Water Act between January 2000 and March 2001, as recorded in the EPA's Permit Compliance System database.

The group found that 134 major facilities were in what the Act defines as "significant noncompliance" during the entire 15 month period.

The goal of the Clean Water Act was to make U.S. waterways fishable and swimmable by 1983, and to achieve zero discharge of pollutants to waterways by 1985. However, according to the most recent EPA data, 40 percent of U.S. surface waters do not meet the fishable and swimmable standard.

The U.S. PIRG report includes several recommendations to help bring about consistent compliance with federal permits and move toward the zero discharge goals of the Clean Water Act:

  • Set tougher penalties. Penalties should be set high enough to remove any economic incentive for polluters to break the law and to deter lawbreaking in the first place.

  • Allow citizens full access to the courts. Obstacles to citizen suits should be removed, including current rules that bar citizens from suing federal facilities.

  • Expand the public's right to know. The public should have greater access to information about enforcement, including the requirement of submissions of comprehensive data by facilities that discharge into waterways and easy accessibility of that data through online Internet searches.

Representative Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, has introduced legislation (HR 5079) that would accomplish many of these recommendations. Senator Jon Corzine, also a Democrat of New Jersey, is expected to introduce similar legislation this fall.

"As we near the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we urge Congress and the President to listen to the public's demands for clean water," concluded Caplan. "The administration's proposed cuts to EPA's enforcement budget take us in the wrong direction at the wrong time."

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