The report compiled by the public interest watchdog organisation, US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), Polluter’s Playground: How the Government Permits Pollution, analysed the behaviour of major facilities nationwide by reviewing violations of the Clean Water Act between October 1998 and December 1999 recorded in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Permit Compliance System database.

Overall, 26% of the US’s largest facilities have recently violated the Act, which aimed to make waterways fishable and swimmable by 1983, and to achieve zero discharge of pollutants to waterways by 1985. In 2001, 40% of US surface waters do not meet the required standard, the US PIRG says. Among the major findings of its report include:

  • the ten states with the highest percentage of major facilities in Significant Non-Compliance (SNC) were Utah, Tennessee, Ohio, Vermont, Missouri, Oklahoma, Alabama, Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Indiana;
  • 159 major facilities were in SNC during the entire 15 month period; and
  • of the 42 industrial facilities in SNC for the entire 15 month period, EPA records indicate only one received a fine over the past five years.

To bring about consistent compliance with permits and move toward the zero-discharge goals of the Clean Water Act, US PIRG recommends:

  • setting tougher penalties, which are high enough to remove any economic incentive for polluters to break the law and to deter lawbreaking in the first place;
  • allowing citizens full access to the courts, including removing current rules that bar citizens from suing federal facilities; and
  • expanding the public’s right to know, by requiring submissions of comprehensive data by facilities that discharge into waterways and easy accessibility of that data through online Internet searches.

“It is outrageous that the Bush Administration is proposing to slash enforcement budgets when more than one in four polluting facilities are breaking the law,” said US PIRG Environmental Advocate Richard Caplan. “We need clean water now, and we have to start by requiring polluters to obey the law. We urge Congress and the President to listen to the public’s demands for clean water.

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