U.S. Water News Online
MINNEAPOLIS— Minnesota and eight other states have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over what they say is an illegal ruling that could hurt fisheries and contaminate drinking water.
The lawsuit targets an EPA water transfer rule published June 9 that exempts the discharge of pollutants contained in “transfer waters” from permitting requirements, the attorneys general said.
The states contend the rule creates a loophole that could allow the transfer of polluted or contaminated water from one water body to another where it would do harm. Examples of water transfers include an oceangoing ship dumping salt water into the Great Lakes or a lake's water being drained into a river. Water transfers routinely occur throughout the country for irrigation projects, city drinking water, dams and ecological restoration.
“Federal regulators jeopardize both our economy and our fishing, boating and outdoors way of life by allowing polluted water to be diverted into Minnesota lakes and rivers,” Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said in a news release.
Others suing the EPA include New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and the Canadian province of Manitoba.
The lawsuit by the attorneys general comes after the Florida Wildlife Federation sued to have the new rule invalidated.
“The EPA takes this issue very seriously and will continue to use all our clean water tools to protect the nation's streams and rivers from potential impacts from water transfers,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles in a statement. “However, we have not yet seen a copy of the challenge to the regulation.”
In June, EPA officials said the agency would focus on preventing contaminants from entering water sources in the first place and said clean water permits should focus on water pollution instead of water movement.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is leading the coalition of states in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in New York. Previous court rulings have said water transfers must be regulated under the Clean Water Act, Cuomo said.
Swanson said that because water can flow into Minnesota from other states, the EPA's rule threatens Minnesota's ability to protect its waters. For example, Swanson said Devils Lake in North Dakota is draining water that will eventually flow into the Red River, which borders Minnesota and North Dakota. Devil's Lake hasn't been used for drinking water because of its poor water quality, Swanson said, but the EPA's rule means North Dakota doesn't have to consult with Minnesota before transferring water from the lake to a river that touches its neighbor.
Besides transferring polluted water, the lawsuit contends the EPA's rule could also allow boats to easily spread exotic species from one waterway to another. The problem has been particularly costly in the Great Lakes, where large ships routinely dump millions of gallons of ballast water into the lakes before taking on loads of raw materials. A University of Notre Dame study released in July concluded that invasive species cost the regional economy at least $200 million a year.
Last month, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's citizens' board approved standards that by 2016 would require ships to treat ballast water before dumping it into Minnesota waters of Lake Superior.
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