Clean Water in PA seems harder and harder to come by

Published: October 31, 2009 by

Gutting DEP, aging Clean Water Act all wet

A report by the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment illustrates the folly of state lawmakers eviscerating the Department of Environmental Protection and a need for Congress to reinvigorate the Clean Water Act of 1972.

PennEnvironment analyzed the federal Toxic Release Inventory for 2007 and found that industries released 2.6 million pounds of pollutants into the Susquehanna River that year. That’s more than 25 percent of the 10 million pounds of industrial pollutants that were released into waterways statewide in 2007, a year in which Pennsylvania was among the top five states in total volume.

The report puts a disturbing exclamation point on the new state budget, which reduces the budget for the Department of Environmental Protection by about a third.

And the study is an incomplete picture because it deals with “point source” discharges alone, that is, known quantifiable discharges from known sources. It does not catalogue non-point source pollution such as fertilizer and animal waste the enter waterways from farms.

Nor does the report deal with so-called “legacy” pollution – toxic matter deposited in the river for more than a century by mines and other industries that no longer exist.

The report is drawn from existing data. It should serve as a reminder to Harrisburg and Washington that water pollution remains an enormous problem.

State lawmakers and regulators should ensure that clean water enforcement remains a priority despite the hatchet that the Legislature took to the DEP. Perhaps lawmakers can stop hoarding their own $200 million surplus and dedicate some of it to the cause of clean water.

Congress should proceed with a revision of the Clean Water Act that sets higher standards, includes all streams and wetlands under regulation, and limits the discharge non-point source pollution along with industrial toxins.


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