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EPA sued over outdated industrial wastewater standards

Wastewater regulations for oil refineries and chemical plants haven't been updated in nearly 40 years.

(CN) — Environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday over wastewater standards for seven different industries, including oil refineries and manufacturers of chemicals, plastics, fertilizers and pesticides.

"These industries are some of the dirtiest, releasing billions of gallons of wastewater into our rivers, streams and lakes each year, wastewater that contains nitrogen that fuels algae blooms and choke the life out of waterways," said Jennifer Dugan, deputy director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a public interest law firm representing the plaintiffs, during a press conference. "The pollution standards for these industries, which are supposed to reflect the best available technology, are ancient — they're nearly 40 years old in some cases, and EPA hasn’t set any limits at all in some cases. That’s just not allowed under the Clean Water Act."

The complaint, filed directly to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenges the EPA's decision "not to revise the effluent limitations, effluent limitation guidelines, standards of performance for new sources, and pretreatment standards" that haven't been updated in decades.

A spokesperson for the EPA did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Passed in 1972, the Clean Water Act requires the agency to regulate industrial pollutants that make their way into the water, based on the best available wastewater treatment technology. But according to the plaintiffs, the EPA has never set limits on plants that mold and form plastic and has gone nearly 40 years without updating wastewater limits on inorganic chemical plants and petroleum refineries. The agency hasn't revised wastewater limits for pesticide makers since 1998.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit and one of the plaintiffs in the case, 81 oil refineries in the U.S. dumped 15.7 million pounds of nitrogen into waterways in 2021 and 21 fertilizer plants dumped 7.7 million pounds of nitrogen. The nitrogen "causes algae blooms and fish-killing 'dead-zones,'" the plaintiffs said in a statement, adding, "Proposed new plants will add millions of additional pounds to that load."

“For decades the EPA has let these dirty industries pollute our rivers and bays instead of making them keep pace with advances in technologies that tackle water pollution, as the Clean Water Act demands,” said Hannah Connor, environmental health deputy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a written statement. "The EPA needs to bring pollution standards into the 21st century.”

New technology allows sewage plants to "denitrify" wastewater before releasing it into the nearest waterway. The EPA could require oil refineries and fertilizer makers to use that same technology.

The other plaintiffs in the suit include Clean Water Action, Waterkeeper Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Environment America, Bayou City Waterkeeper, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Healthy Gulf, San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, San Francisco Baykeeper, the Surfrider Foundation and Tennessee Riverkeeper.

Categories:Environment, Government

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