Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lawsuit spurs water safety plan

ICL and Advocates for the West sue EPA


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

A lawsuit filed by environmentalists in April against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has prompted the state of Idaho to write a plan to protect streams and lakes.

The nonprofit Idaho Conservation League and Advocates for the West, a public-interest environmental law firm, are suing the EPA for refusing to establish an anti-degradation implementation plan for waterways in the state that have been impacted by point-source pollution.

The suit alleges that in 2008 only 27 percent of Idaho's streams met state water-quality standards and that 36 percent of streams violated standards for one or more pollutants.

The suit also claims that the department has failed to monitor 37 percent of all waters within the state.

Todd Tucci, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said the anti-degradation plan has been legally required since 1995 by the EPA, but that the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has refused to write one.

"The state has a policy to protect water quality, but no implementation plan," Tucci said.

He said an anti-degradation plan would use available data to determine if waterways are degraded by pollution, and if they are, whether discharging pollution is necessary to accommodate "important economic and social development," a requirement of the Clean Water Act.

"The plan would also determine if there is an alternative method to discharging pollution," Tucci said.

Idaho Deputy Attorney General Doug Conde said the DEQ is working this summer to establish rules for industry and municipalities to satisfy the demands of the lawsuit.

"As a result of the lawsuit, the state is now developing provisions that will be included in Idaho's water-quality standards," Conde said.

Conde said if the state does not fulfill the obligation of writing the implementation plan, the EPA has a mandate to establish one.

The rulemaking process for the plan, which will be available for public comment in November, will include comments from industry officials. Conde said the DEQ hopes to form a "consensus" on the provisions. He said companies that will be affected by the plan include Monsanto, Sorrento and Jerome Cheese, which are allegedly discharging pollutants into the Snake River.

Tucci said the plan should have been implemented long ago, perhaps following passage of the Clean Water Act in 1973.

"Why did the state wait 35 years to take affirmative action to protect the quality of the waters of Idaho?" he asked. "While we welcome the Department of Environmental Quality coming late to the party, we will be following the process carefully to make sure that the rules meet the minimum standards of the Clean Water Act."

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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