Coalition sues EPA over failure to protect waters
August 04, 2010
JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) filed a federal lawsuit today (Aug. 4, 2010) in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri aimed at cleaning up Missouri’s waters. The lawsuit charges that the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed the citizens of Missouri because the vast majority of waters in the state have been illegally exempted from clean water laws that aim to keep water safe and healthy for people, fish, and livestock.

Since it was passed in 1972, the Clean Water Act has required protection of the nation’s waters. For the past 38 years the state has failed to protect all of its waters. The EPA instructed the state to correct this gross oversight in 2000. And yet, 10 years later, more than 150,000 miles of streams remain unprotected by the standards and laws that would keep Missouri waters healthy.

“We have food sanitation rules for restaurants that cover the whole restaurant and do not exempt the kitchens; we have driving rules that are applied to all of our roads and do not exempt state highways; And yet we have illegal regulations that exempt most of the waters of the state. It makes no sense when water is such a valuable natural resource,” said Kathleen Logan Smith, the coalition's executive director.

"These exempted streams, deemed 'unclassified' by an artifact of legal-ese, feed our rivers and lakes where we float, fish, and swim. Because of the failure to apply standards, these 'unclassified' waters are delivering an ever-increasing supply of pollution to our recreational rivers, lakes and drinking water supplies, because full pollution limits are not applied to discharges into these waters. Waters that are polluted can have more algae and fewer fish and can contain parasites, viruses, and bacteria that make people, pets, and livestock sick. The great majority of wastewater discharges in Missouri are into these 'unclassified' waters," Logan Smith noted.

E coli bacteria contamination alone has been responsible for the closing of more than 30 beaches in Missouri this year. Most of these are in classified waters that the law is currently set up to protect.

"Missourians everywhere are affected when we cannot enjoy one of the most long-standing, traditional summer activities in our state," Logan Smith said. "Without real and effective steps forward in our water policy, we can expect an ever-increasing limitation on our ability to enjoy and benefit from the state’s waters."

“If the upstream waters are not clean, there is little hope for the receiving waters,” said Caroline Ishida, staff attorney for MCE. “It is fundamentally unfair for dischargers on one stream to be required to meet standards and regulations when their neighbor upstream does not.”

“Fouling our waters costs us money everyday. We pay in water treatment costs, medical and veterinary costs, lost tourism and recreation income, lost property value, and unrealized opportunity,” said Lorin Crandall, MCE’s clean water coordinator. “Our waters should be healthy enough for our native fish and safe enough for our children. That’s not too much to ask.”

Logan Smith said Missourians deserve and desire clean, healthy waters. Applying the standards is a necessary and critical step to getting cleaner, safer waters and reclaiming our water-rich heritage. After more than seven years of effort to come to a solution on the unclassified waters issue, MCE decided it couldn't wait any longer for action from Department of Natural Resources or the EPA.

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