Tuesday 18 September 2018
On March 28 2016 attorneys for Anacostia Riverkeeper, a local advocacy organization working to protect and restore the Anacostia River, filed a complaint in the current civil enforcement action taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against PEPCO for Clean Water Act violations. The federal government charged PEPCO with illegally discharging hundreds of pounds of toxic heavy metals for over five years into the Anacostia River at its Benning Road facility.  These toxic metals include copper, zinc, iron and lead. For a copy of the complaint, see https://goo.gl/53wjxj.
Anacostia Riverkeeper notified EPA that it would take action to stop these violations in Sept. 2015 when it filed a Notice of Intent to Sue under the Act. These unlawful discharges are ongoing and continuous, and involve dangerous toxic metals that violate PEPCO’s permit for at least the past five years.PEPCO’s extensive history of ongoing illegal discharges into the Anacostia River pose unacceptable risks of adverse health effects that threaten all users, including subsistence fishermen and casual visitors, while severely delaying progress toward clean up and restoration of this vital and historic watershed. DC and Maryland agencies have warned for years that local fisherman and their families should avoid eating fish caught from the Anacostia River because of toxic pollutants. The pollutants in the river accumulate in the tissue of the fish. Despite the risks and warnings, an estimated 17,000 people regularly eat fish taken from the Anacostia River. Anacostia Riverkeeper is deeply alarmed that EPA and the DC government tolerated these violations by PEPCO for so many years.
“It is unfortunate that it has taken several years and the force of legal action against Pepco by Anacostia Riverkeeper, for EPA to step up and take notice of PEPCO’s continued disregard for the law. We will continue to hold both EPA and PEPCO accountable for up holding the Clean Water Act and advocate for the health of our citizens and the environment,” said Emily Franc of Anacostia Riverkeeper.
Read more: The Southwester, May 10, 2016

In its opinion in three cases involving MS4 permits, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) is complying with the bare minimum legal requirements for municipal storm sewer system regulations.Weak MS4 permitting in Baltimore City will allow for continued illicit runoff.

“That may be good enough for the court and for MDE, but meeting the bare minimum requirement is not good enough for our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, one of the challengers in the case. 

It has been several years since these cases first began wending their way through the Maryland courts. Although the outcome was not what they had hoped it would be, the plaintiffs will continue to advocate for a more rigorous and transparent process as part of the five-year renewal cycle.

Some of these permits will renew as early as 2018. That will be a time for each jurisdiction (Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties) to step up their efforts to strengthen their permits — and for the public to be engaged in demanding more from their governing entities.

Finally, while we may have to accept this court’s opinion as little more than a token toward water quality improvements, the court did not exempt MDE from using its enforcement tools to require compliance to these baseline goals. We know that the EPA Region 3 (Chesapeake Bay inclusive) has put MDE on notice for its lack of compliance review.

"Stormwater is the only pollution sector in the Chesapeake that is actually increasing, so our Riverkeepers are going to have redouble their efforts to monitor and ensure compliance with the permit terms," said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

“Maryland cannot keep doing the bare minimum required under the law if it wants to have any hope of cleaning up and protecting its rivers and streams,” said Jennifer Chavez of Earthjustice, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals. “Community and conservation groups across Maryland will continue pressing MDE to issue stronger stormwater pollution limits.”

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