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"Updated: Thursday, Feb. 17, 2000 at 20:44 CST
Federal waterway pollution at record rate, EPA says By David Armstrong c.2000 The Boston Globe
The federal government is polluting the nation's waterways at a record rate, violating the landmark Clean Water Act more frequently than private companies and six times as often as in 1993, according to a new report by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Nearly four out of ten federal facilities, primarily those operated by the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, were in significant violation of the water pollution law in 1998, the last full year examined by the EPA.
By comparison, three out of ten private facilities and those operated by local governments failed to comply with the law during the same year.
Most disturbing to environmentalists is the fact the federal government's record of polluting lakes and rivers continues to worsen. In 1993, for instance, only 6 percent -- or less than one in ten -- of the federal facilities were polluting waterways.
The report by the EPA's Federal Facilities Enforcement Office highlights the system of special exemptions and loopholes that often allow the government to pollute with little fear of any consequences.
Federal agencies are exempt from many of the penalties levied under the Clean Water Act against private companies, a situation which Congress has failed to remedy and which critics say has received little attention from the White House.
"The federal facilities need to pay penalties just like everyone else," said Nancy Stoner, a former EPA enforcement official who now directs the Clean Water Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington environmental group. "They need to be accountable like every other source in the country. Their record has been abysmal for some time."
Gregory Snyder, the director of the EPA office that produced the report, said government failure to comply with clean water regulations stands out.
"We think the decline in Clean Water Act compliance is linked with (agencies) not being subject to penalties," he said. "We think there is something there. The ability to assess penalties influences those statistics."
In a series last November, The Boston Globe cited other exemptions and the lack of enforcement that serves to benefit government agencies that violate the nation's environmental laws.
The report by the EPA found that federal agencies had a much better record when it came to complying with laws in which they were subject to the same level of enforcement as private companies.
For example, the law governing the handling and disposal of hazardous waste was changed in 1992 so that federal agencies faced the same penalties as private businesses. In the years since the change, the record of government compliance has increased steadily and is now similar to that of the private sector, according to the report.
The problem of federal agencies failing to comply with the Clean Water Act is symptomatic of generally lax enforcement against polluters, critics contend.
A second report, issued Thursday by the US Public Interest Research Group, a non-profit watchdog organization that has pushed for tougher enforcement of environmental laws, concluded state agencies and the EPA have failed to deter businesses and government agencies from fouling waterways across the country.
The report, entitled `Poisoning Our Water: How the Government Permits Pollution," found that large companies and sewage treatment plants dumped nearly 270 million pounds of toxic chemicals into US waterways during 1997.
Much of the blame for the widespread polluting can be directed at the state and federal agencies charged with enforcement, the report concluded.
"The most obvious explanation is that government enforcement of the Clean Water Act has been weak," the report charged. "EPA and many of the delegated state agencies charged with implementing the Act have lacked both the resources and the political will to enforce the law aggressively and provide a critical deterrent against illegal pollution."
Telephone calls to EPA officials for comment on the report were not returned Thursday.
The report also chides the federal government for failing to get tough with its own agencies that are polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. "Considering that the federal government is supposed to be responsible for implementation of our Clean Water Act and therefore should be setting an example, these figures are particularly alarming."
Distributed by The Associated Press (AP) "
All these pipe problems won't do much to alleviate the situation. Have a good day, folks.
-- mike in houston (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 18, 2000