WASHINGTON, D.C. — Conservation groups filed petitions today urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to exercise its authority to safeguard rivers, lakes, and streams from polluted runoff from existing commercial, industrial, and institutional sites that are currently failing to adequately control their pollution. The petitions seek to hold commercial, industrial and institutional facilities accountable for controlling runoff that carries toxic pollutants, including lead, zinc, copper, nitrogen and phosphorus, off of their roofs, parking lots, and sidewalks into nearby waterways when it rains or floods.
Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and American Rivers, along with Anacostia Riverkeeper, Anacostia Watershed Society, Blue Water Baltimore/Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, California Coastkeeper Alliance, PennFuture, Potomac Riverkeeper, and the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, jointly filed the petitions calling on EPA to exercise its authority under the Clean Water Act, known as Residual Designation Authority (RDA), on a regional scale spanning EPA Regions 1 (New England), 3 (Mid-Atlantic states) and 9 (Southwest states and California) to manage runoff from sources that are already contributing to violations of state water quality standards.
According to the groups, much of untreated polluted runoff comes from sites such as acres of shopping mall parking lots, industrial rooftops, and other commercial surfaces that were built decades ago. However, many of these sites are not currently responsible for reducing their runoff pollution. Yet, because city storm sewer systems have pollution control and cleanup obligations, taxpayers often are responsible for paying for infrastructure improvements to manage runoff. CLF, NRDC and American Rivers are asking EPA to grant their petitions so that the costs of managing this pollution will be more equitably distributed and that these sources take responsibility for the pollution they generate.
The petitions are consistent with similar recent initiatives. In 2009, after years of advocacy, New England-based Conservation Law Foundation secured two RDA permits for sources of polluted runoff, both of which require sites to be improved to reduce their share of stormwater pollution into five impaired brooks in Burlington, Vt., and urban Long Creek in Southern Maine.
“Polluters must be held accountable to do their part to restore healthy lakes, rivers, wetlands and estuaries in communities across the U.S.” said Christopher Kilian, VP and Director of CLF’s Clean Water and Healthy Forests Program. “The runoff problem, which affects water bodies small and large, in big cities and small towns from coast to coast, will only get worse with the more frequent and severe storms we are seeing due to climate change. A problem of this magnitude can’t be solved stream by stream. It requires regional solutions to stem this tide of pollution and achieve cleaner water for everyone.”
The current petitions, like the ones previously filed by CLF, demand that EPA issue a permit to sources of stormwater pollution requiring them to reduce their impact to currently polluted waterways. That can be done by using techniques like green infrastructure to reduce runoff. Green infrastructure refers to solutions like permeable pavement and green roofs, which allow polluted runoff to filter into the ground instead of rushing off into nearby streams. If granted, the petitions could serve as a model for cost-effective clean water safeguards throughout the country to restore our nation’s waters for swimming, fishing, and wildlife.
“Green infrastructure is a simple, common-sense solution to our water pollution woes. EPA knows there are chronic water pollution problems that green infrastructure can effectively tackle, but Americans need the agency to lead by insisting on pollution controls for sources that are fouling our waters,” said Jon Devine, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Clean waterways are not only vital for public health, they support healthy economies that generate billions of dollars and support millions of jobs across the nation.”
“When polluted runoff flows off of these sites, we all pay the price in the form of basement backups, flooded streets, rivers that are unsafe for swimming, and beach closures,” said Jeff Odefey, Director of Stormwater Programs for American Rivers. “Taxpayers shouldn’t shoulder the entire bill for managing runoff while these sites continue to pollute our rivers, lakes, and streams. It’s time for existing sources of pollution to take responsibility for their impact. These petitions ask EPA to use its existing authority under the law to make sure everyone is part of the solution.”