More than one in four 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, according to a report released by U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).
"Polluters'' Playground: How the Government Permits Pollution," claims there are many shortcomings in the monitoring of water pollution and efforts to deter polluters, at the same time that the Bush administration has proposed cutting EPA''s budget for enforcement.
U.S. PIRG analyzed the behavior of major facilities nationwide by reviewing violations of the Clean Water Act between October 1998 and December 1999, recorded in EPA''s Permit Compliance System database, obtained by U.S. PIRG under the Freedom of Information Act.
Major findings of the report include:
- The top 10 states with the greatest number of major facilities in Significant Non-Compliance (SNC) were Texas, Ohio, New York, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri and Indiana.
- The top 10 states with the highest percentage of major facilities in SNC were Utah, Tennessee, Ohio, Vermont, Missouri, Oklahoma, Alabama, Rhode Island, Nebraska and Indiana.
- Of the 42 industrial facilities in SNC for the entire 15 month period, EPA records indicate only one received a fine.
"It is outrageous that the Bush administration is proposing to slash enforcement budgets when more than one in four polluting facilities are breaking the law," said Richard Caplan, U.S. PIRG environmental advocate. "We need clean water now, and we have to start by requiring polluters to obey the law."
To bring about consistent compliance with permits and move toward the zero-discharge goals of the Clean Water Act, U.S. PIRG recommended the following:
- 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 the current rules which 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 an accessible way to search for that data online through Internet searches.
by Virginia Sutcliffe