US states accused of allowing water permits to expire

Environmentalists have blamed falling water quality in the US on the fact that regulators have allowed 25% of all major permits to expire across the country.

A review of all 6,700 Clean Water Act National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for major facilities in the US, shows that up to two thirds of water pollution permits have been allowed to expire in 44 states.

The review, carried out by Friends of the Earth (FoE) and the Environmental Working Group, shows that more than two-thirds of permits in Nevada, Rhode Island, Oregon and Nebraska have expired. Texas had the largest number of expired permits at 135; Louisiana is second with 116 expired permits; and Ohio, California and Indiana have 96, 85 and 81 expired permits respectively.

In 12 states more than half of all water pollution permits for major polluters have expired. More than one third of all permits have expired in 17 states, and in 44 states and the District of Columbia more than 10% have expired.

Across the US, about 25% of all major water polluters – more than 1,690 facilities – are operating without current permits to discharge wastes to the US waters. More than 770 major facility permits have been expired for two years, and 251 have been expired for five years. In nine states more than 50 major polluters operate with expired permits.

The permits, which limit the volumes and types of pollution produced by industry and sewage treatment plants, are the basis of much of the US’ water pollution tracking, as well as the enforcement of water pollution laws . Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), permits must be renewed at least every five years.

FoE says governors of many states and the EPA are not enforcing basic pollution laws. “If you or I were driving a car or operating a small business without a valid, up-to-date license, we’d be fined or arrested. Factories and sewage treatment plants should not be allowed to operate with expired permits,” Larry Bohlen, FoE’s director of health and environment programmes said in a statement. “Government officials need to do their jobs and get these permits up to date.”

FoE and the Environmental Working Group conducted a review of the publicly available water pollution records from the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The analysis looked only at ‘major’ permits: those facilities that have the greatest potential to lower water quality due to the volume or type of pollutants discharged. FoE gave states an extra time cushion, so that any permit that it lists as expired has been so for at least three months.

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