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Permission to Pollute

Moments ago Environmental Advocates of New York released our newest report, Permission to Pollute, describing the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) failure to adequately monitor water pollution discharged into state waters.

The report, a follow-up to last year’s Muddying the Waters: The Unknown Consequences of New York’s Failed Water Pollution Permitting Program, found that the DEC is administratively renewing (or as we prefer to call it, rubber-stamping) water pollution permits without substantive review as required by the federal Clean Water Act. This isn’t good news for New York’s waters and here’s why–

Under the Clean Water Act, pollution discharged into lakes, rivers and streams across the U.S. is regulated by means of permits to pollute. This means that big companies and wastewater treatment plants, and hundreds of other polluters, are given permits that detail the type and amount of pollutant discharges allowed. And the Act requires that each permit be thoroughly reviewed every five years. Because, as we all know, a lot can change in five years.

These permit reviews are especially important in the case of polluters with a troubled history or waterways with documented health problems.

But back to the report. Permission to Pollute sheds light on what the DEC’s rubber-stamp permit reviews mean for New York’s waters; and the findings aren’t pretty. We looked at about 10 percent of the permits that were administratively renewed by the DEC over a 10-month period (that’s 32 of 343 for those of you keeping score). We found:

*Some water pollution permits have gone more than 20 years without review;

*Nearly all of the facilities we looked at had permit violations that resulted in the discharge of unsafe levels of pollution;

*The DEC’s administrative renewal process excludes the public from their role in permit reviews; and

*Records and documents made available to us in response to our requests were often inconsistent and incomplete.

The most frightening thing our research uncovered is what we don’t know. Because of the DEC’s failure to monitor this pollution, we can’t say for certain what’s in our waters. And neither can the DEC.

The lack of staff and resources at the state’s primary environmental agency is likely the cause of the DEC’s inability to conduct substantive reviews of water pollution permits. There simply aren’t enough reviewers to keep up with the number of polluters requesting permits.

Environmental Advocates is calling on the Governor and the State Legislature to ensure the DEC has the resources the agency needs to properly oversee the discharge of pollution to our waters. Water pollution permitting is not the place to cut corners. Otherwise, the health of our drinking water supplies and our waterways will continue to be in danger.

The complete report includes examples of pollution permits from across the state.  Click here to read the details.

One Response

  1. The Clean Water Act sadly was never implemented and while EPA mostly blames farmers their pollution (CAFO’s and agricultural runoff), causing eutrophication and consequently dead zones, cities still are allowed to dump the same pollution (nutrients) in our open waters, since EPA still allows cities to use open waters as urinals, in spite of the fact that the goal of the Clean water Act was to eliminate (100% treatment) all water pollution by 1985.

    The reason? Simple, but also very embarrassing!
    EPA, like the rest of the world, used an essential pollution test incorrect and the pollution (now called nutrients) caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste is ignored, while nitrogenous (urine and proteins) waste like fecal waste exerts an oxygen demand, but in all its forms is a nutrient (fertilizer) for algae and aquatic plants.

    In 1984 EPA acknowledge the problems with this test, but in stead of correcting this test (so we finally would be able to evaluate the true performance of such facilities and determine what their effluent waste loading on open waters would be), EPA allowed an alternative test and officially lowered the goal of the CWA from 100% treatment to a measly 35% treatment, without even informing Congress, as apparently the media also did not understand what was going on.

    But who cares, this is a technical issue and for that you have to trust the experts, who clearly in this case prefer the status quo. If you like to know more you can visit my website http://www.petermaier.net and in the Technical PDF section read a description of the BOD test and the consequences if you apply the test as still is applied.

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