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Stormwater Stalling Spurs Lawsuit

Friday, January 9, 2015

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In a move likely to impact construction in all sectors, environmental groups are suing to enforce a 2003 court order that requires the federal government to strengthen regulations preventing pollution from stormwater runoff.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “foot-dragging” on the issue is “inexcusable,” according to representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC).

waterway
© iStock.com / ferrerivideo

Stormwater is one of the nation's most widespread forms of water pollution.

Stormwater is one of the nation’s most widespread forms of water pollution. Runoff from developed sites and construction projects dumps a significant amount of pollutants into the wetlands, streams and rivers.

The groups filed the lawsuit Dec. 18, 2014, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

Court Order

More than a decade ago, a federal appeals court ordered the EPA to redo portions of its 1999 stormwater regulations dealing with urban runoff because they were not aligned with the Clean Water Act, the environmental groups said in an announcement on the suit.

That order also directed the agency to consider regulating runoff from unpaved forest roads.

construction site
©iStock.com / hxdyl

In urban areas, stormwater “picks up contaminants, including suspended metals, algae-promoting nutrients, used motor oil, raw sewage, pesticides, and trash,” that flows untreated through municipal sewer pipes directly into streams, lakes and the ocean, according to the suit.

That ruling resulted from a successful challenge brought by EDC and NRDC.

In the latest suit, the groups are asking the court to impose strict deadlines for EPA to issue those updates. Specifically, the plaintiffs want the court to order EPA to:

  • Issue new rules on urban stormwater permits within one year;
  • Make a formal determination within six months on whether regulation of forest road runoff is necessary; and
  • If the agency finds forest road regulations necessary, issue such rules within two years after that.

EPA Responds

In response to the lawsuit, the EPA acknowledged the "serious threat" imposed by runoff but said its "goal is to build a broad nationwide constituency for better stormwater pollution control by educating communities and giving them an opportunity to develop strong programs before creating additional federal regulatory requirements."

The EPA promotes programs incorporating green infrastructure, such as roof gardens and permeable pavements, according to the agency's website.

These technologies allow more rainfall to soak directly into the ground and sharply limit runoff volume, according to the NRDC and EDC.

Stormwater Issue

As it flows across roads and other hard surfaces, rainwater can pick up pollutants like sediment, debris, chemicals and transport these to nearby sewage systems and waterways.

Such runoff is the main cause of beach closings and is responsible for fouling tens of thousands of miles of streams and hundreds of thousands of acres of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, the NRDC and EDC said.

roof garden
©iStock.com / donkeyru

Green infrastructure, such as rooftop gardens and permeable pavements, is gaining support.

Additionally, sediment-laden runoff from forest roads threatens drinking-water supplies and kills fish and other aquatic life, the groups noted.

Abandoned Plans

“This inexcusable delay in obeying a clear court order is, unfortunately, all too typical of EPA foot-dragging on the crucial stormwater pollution problem,” said NRDC senior attorney Larry Levine.

“The agency has repeatedly promised a much-needed update of all its stormwater protections, and repeatedly failed to come through.”

The agency pledged to begin updating the standards in 2009 but recently abandoned the effort, according to the groups.

EPA’s decision to jettison rulemaking in favor of education was applauded the National Association of Home Builders in March 2014. In its news blog, NAHB called the approach a “major win for the home building industry,” as new rules would have been “onerous, costly, and in many cases impractical.”

Levine said, "We hope this suit spurs EPA to get back into the business of modernizing its whole stormwater program, which badly needs updating and could greatly benefit from new green technologies."

   

Tagged categories: Developers; Environmental Control; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Good Technical Practice; Government; North America; Regulations

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