A coalition of environmental groups is threatening to sue U.S. EPA if it fails to promptly set legal limits for nutrients in Wisconsin waters.
The agency pledged a decade ago to regulate phosphorus and nitrogen pollution in all states, noting that significant pollution problems still existed after passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
But the agency has not lived up to its legal requirements, according to the coalition, which includes Milwaukee Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
"The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has developed the science needed for sound phosphorous standards," said Betsy Lawton, a Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney representing the coalition. "EPA must honor its 1999 pledge to set standards for this harmful pollutant that hampers recreation for Wisconsin residents by contributing to green, stinky water, closed beaches and toxic algae."
The coalition's 60-day notice of intent to sue follows the resolution of a similar case earlier this month between environmental groups and EPA over Florida waters.
A federal judge on Nov. 16 approved a consent decree requiring the agency to set quantifiable nutrient pollution limits in Florida, the first time EPA will attempt to do so for any state.
Nutrients discharged from sewage treatment plants or washing off farms, lawns and other sources can fuel toxic algal blooms that suck dissolved oxygen out of the water, creating hypoxic "dead zones" that smother marine life.
The algae in Wisconsin has led to the death of pets and several cases of rashes, sore throats and eye irritation in the state this year, the coalition said.
EPA's Office of Inspector General found in August that the agency failed to follow through on its pledge to enforce federal nutrient pollution standards if states did not develop their own by 2004 (E&ENews PM, Aug. 27).
"EPA's current approach is not working," the inspector general wrote. "EPA has relied on the states to develop standards on their own without any meaningful monitoring or control. EPA did not establish priorities, enforceable milestones, or adequate measures to assess progress."
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency supports a range of strategies for curbing nutrient pollution in waterways.
"EPA expects to continue to work in a collaborative manner with states to achieve the goal of effective management of nutrients to address water quality issues," she said. "In those cases where data and information support a federal Clean Water Act determination that a state needs new or revised water quality standards for nutrients, EPA expects to move forward and consider similar actions."
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