MCE Demands EPA Enforce Clean Water Act

St. Louis, MO: It has been four years since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) rejected Missouri’s proposed nutrient standards for lakes, and neither the State of Missouri nor US EPA has taken action to promulgate new, effective standards. Friday, in order

Long Branch Lake in Macon, MO is an example of a lake that lacks nutrient standards. Photo credit: MCE

Long Branch Lake in Macon, MO is an example of a lake that lacks nutrient standards. Photo credit: MCE

to remedy this failure, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) sent a Notice of Intent to File Suit (NOI) to US EPA, alleging violation of US EPA’s mandatory duty to issue effective standards when the state does not take action on its own.

Nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, are among the biggest contributors to fish kills and algal blooms throughout Missouri and the nation. Nutrients contribute to the massive Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which now spans over 6,400 square miles.

In 2009, Missouri proposed water quality standards that would have placed numeric limits on the amount of nutrients in Missouri’s lakes. However, in August 2011, US EPA rejected most of these standards, noting that the methods proposed by Missouri were not based on a sound scientific rationale and that Missouri had failed to demonstrate that the proposed standards would protect the waters for fishing and recreation.

Once US EPA disapproves a standard, Missouri has 90 days to correct the deficiencies. If Missouri doesn’t take action, US EPA must issue its own rules. But neither Missouri nor EPA has taken any concrete action and as of today, Missouri does not have nutrient standards for nearly all of its lakes.

“We want to see the protections of the Clean Water Act implemented in Missouri. The state had 90 days in 2011 to address nutrient pollution and here we are in 2015 without adequate, legal protections regulating the nutrient pollution entering our waterways,” said MCE Water Policy Coordinator, Alicia Lloyd.

The federal Clean Water Act delegates to states the responsibility to assess the function of lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands and then to develop appropriate water quality standards to support those uses so they may supply communities with clean drinking water and maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems in our nation’s waters. While the enactment of the CWA in 1972 led to great strides in improving water quality, Missouri has yet to fully implement the law within its borders.

Although Obama’s Clean Water Rule has captured public attention, it has little to do with these nutrient standards. They will apply to lakes that are already accepted by Missouri as waters of the U.S.  “This is a straightforward case. Neither the state nor the national government has developed acceptable water quality standards for nutrients in Missouri for lakes and other water bodies as required by the federal Clean Water Act. Doing so would be a great step towards thorough protections of our abundant and irreplaceable water resources in Missouri” said Lloyd.

Once an NOI is filed, the responding party has 60 days to respond before a lawsuit can be filed. In this case, MCE can file suit as soon as January 5th.

MCE is represented by the Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic.

For more information, visit the MCE website.

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