Jul 10, 2015

Groups File Lawsuit Against EPA Industrial Stormwater Permit

The lawsuit challenges effluent limits and the lack of monitoring requirements

Industrial Stormwater Permit Waterkeeper Alliance

A coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Industrial Stormwater Permit, formally known as the Multi Sector General Permit for Stormwater Discharges Associated with Industrial Activity (MSGP).

The nationwide coalition includes Waterkeeper Alliance, headquartered in New York City; Conservation Law Foundation, headquartered in Boston; the Ecological Rights Foundation and Our Children’s Earth Foundation, which are both based in California; Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper; and the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, from Washington State.

EPA’s industrial storm water permit regulates storm water pollution in states that have not been delegated Clean Water Act permitting authority, at federal facilities and on tribal lands. In addition, EPA’s permit often sets the bar for delegated states when they write their own permits, and thus serves as a model for permits that govern tens to hundreds of thousands of industrial storm water discharges across the country.

The group says there are serious deficiencies in EPA’s industrial storm water permit that, unless corrected, will allow polluters to continue to discharge unreasonably high levels of toxins, metals, and other pollutants into waterways—and these deficiencies are illegal.

Key failures, according to the group, include:

  • The permit lacks clear numeric effluent limits on the amount of pollution that an industry can discharge. Numeric limits are feasible and required by the Clean Water Act.
  • EPA does not require industrial storm water polluters to monitor for many pollutants that they commonly discharge. The National Research Council, which is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, has identified “glaring deficiencies” in the list of pollutants that EPA asks industrial storm water polluters to monitor. The permit fails to provide any means for using the limited data generated for evaluating impacts to receiving waters.
  • The industrial storm water permit limits both meaningful government oversight and the public’s right to act as guardians of the waterways. The permit gives polluters automatic coverage in 30 days, even if EPA did not review their application materials or their plans to prevent storm water pollution. The permit also denies the public any opportunity to comment on or seek a hearing regarding a polluter’s application.

“We are deeply disappointed with EPA’s failure to set numeric limits in this permit after spending so much time and effort to bring ‘Big Data’ to the world of water pollution,” said Reed Super, lawyer for Waterkeeper Alliance. “EPA worked with states to develop electronic water pollution records, then it linked those records together into a national system. Today, EPA can draw on hundreds of thousands of data points collected by polluters across the country, in every line of business, to set clear, achievable pollution limits for industrial storm water. But EPA didn’t even consider trying to set clear, numeric limits.”

Across the country, storm water runoff is one of the biggest and most harmful sources of pollution in waterways. When rain falls on sites like cement plants, scrapyards, or truck depots, it picks up pollution caused by industrial activity and carries it into waterways, including drinking water sources. Industrial storm water often contains a mix of environmentally damaging and toxic pollutants including: sediments; oil; metals such as arsenic, lead, zinc, and copper; and persistent toxins such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.