October 15, 2009 the Clean Water Act Enforcement Action Plan was submitted to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. EPA recognizes that over the last 30 years water pollution from the large direct industrial point sources, such as factories and sewage treatment plants, has been abated to a large extent , but that water quality threats from other sources--many of which were historically deemed to be non-point sources is causing serious pollution challenges. The regulated universe has expanded from roughly 100,000 traditional point sources to nearly one million far more dispersed sources such as animal feeding operations and storm water runoff. EPA found that many of the nation’s waters are not meeting water quality standards, and the threat to drinking water sources is growing. EPA proposes to target federal and state enforcement to tackle sources posing the biggest threats to water quality while increasing vigorous civil and criminal enforcement against traditional end-of-pipe pollution.
EPA announced that it is responsible for assuring that the protections of the Clean Water Act extend to all citizens and that while some states have strong water quality protection and enforcement programs, as a whole, state compliance and enforcement is uneven, creating an unlevel playing field for businesses that do comply with the law, and denying citizens equal protection under the environmental legal framework. EPA notes that it must ensure that states protect water quality and consistently apply the law by issuing protective permits and by pursuing vigorous enforcement. EPA intends to set standards for acceptable state programs, and consistently hold states accountable. Where states are not meeting these expectations, EPA needs to strengthen water quality protection by disapproving permits that are not protective and by pursuing federal enforcement against serious violators.
EPA also emphasized that the public has a right to know what the threats are to water quality, where violations are occurring, and what EPA is doing about them. Additionally, the increased and dispersed numbers of pollution sources require EPA to target enforcement to the biggest problems. EPA intends to advance both goals by requiring reports to be submitted electronically.
Through the State Review Framework, EPA has made available comprehensive reports and data on water enforcement for all 54 states and territories, including those states/territories where EPA directly administers the permitting and enforcement program itself. The reports also review the clean air and RCRA hazardous waste compliance enforcement programs for each state and territory. EPA has also developed new web-based tools, ECHO, to help the public search, assess, and analyze the enforcement data that EPA used to help prepare those reports.
The May through July 2007 assessment of the West Virginia Division of Water and Waste Management (WV DWWM) found problems with data accuracy, timeliness and completeness during the course of its review. EPA found that WV DWWM fails to enter required data into the national computer database system which flow through to the ECHO website, accessible to the public. Significant non-compliances are not identified to EPA in a timely manner even though the file review indicated significant noncompliance events. Moreover WV DWWM does not enter the enforcement activity it takes into the national computer database on a monthly basis. EPA has recommended that West Virginia enter all significant noncompliance into the database and designate facilities as significant violators. Complete data entry is required in order to ensure an adequate picture of the West Virginia's compliance and enforcement program.
This article was authored by Barbara D. Little, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author see here.