What if Clean Water Act Really Applied to Government Pollution?
So the headline reads: “Sewage leak closes some Westchester, N.Y. beaches.” The article I checked online didn’t say who was responsible for the sewage leak. As a general rule, a private firm caught polluting would be facing a steep fine. A private firm closing beaching on one of the hottest days of summer would face a public relations crisis as well as fines and potential lawsuits.
I posted earlier on city and county sewage outflow into New York and New Jersey coastal waters. Other cities upstream dump sewage into the Hudson river. They face fines and plan repairs. But are fines and plans enough? Do they reduce future pollution, or just lead to taxpayer dollars transferred from one government agency to another to pay the fines?
This March 2012 story “Sewage spills bring fines, fix-up plan“
TROY — The state is hitting Rensselaer County, and the cities of Troy and Rensselaer, with fines of up to $650,000 for nearly 200 illegal sewage spills into the Hudson River going back as far as 2006.
In an agreement unveiled Tuesday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the municipalities can reduce the penalty to $100,000 by fixing an aging system of sewer pipes that connect the two municipal systems to the county sewage treatment plant on the river, but sometimes bypass the plant to spill directly into the Hudson.
“This agreement is an important step to improve the Hudson River’s water quality,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “The municipalities will make significant infrastructure improvements as a result.”
By the mid 1990s, the Section’s enforcement of Clean Water Act efforts followed several areas of pollution which were impairing the ability to achieve the goal of the Clean Water Act, despite 15 years of individual direct discharger enforcement. The focus turned back to the municipalities, whose contribution of untreated or partially treated sewage to our nation’s waters was measurably affecting water quality throughout the United States. The cause was aging infrastructure of the sewage collection systems – the inability of the sewer pipes to convey sewage and excessive rain water reliably to the upgraded sewage treatment plants, or the inability to handle all that flow at those plants.
But the mid-1990s were nearly twenty years ago and still municipalities have aging and “inadequate” infrastructure, and are still polluting.
Meanwhile the DOJ has veered off to new “21st Century” targets. Not only Targets, but Wal-Marts, home builders and developers:
The 21st century in Clean Water Act enforcement has taken on another source of impairment to water quality, not from industry, not from municipalities, but the result of a booming economy around the turn of the century — runoff of sediment-laden storm water from large scale construction projects. See Litigation Under EPA’s Storm Water Priority. The Section has brought Clean Water Act actions for construction-caused storm water discharges against Wal-Mart, Target, Pulte, Centex, KB Homes, Richmond Homes, and many smaller developers.