Last December 2014 we sent the EPA a Notice of Intent to Sue for their failure to take mandatory action on Montana’s recently submitted numeric nutrient water quality standards. EPA acknowledged it was legally required to take action on Montana’s rule package and, in response to our lawsuit NOI, finally took action last Friday, February 27th 2015.
In its letter EPA approved the totality of Montana’s numeric nutrient rule package, both the new science-based standards that enunciate protections for local water quality and fisheries AND the proposed 20-year variances (AKA, exemptions) for polluters.
We are disappointed that EPA has not stepped up to the plate and told Montana it needs to do more to protect local waterways by limiting the length – and applicability – of variances for nutrient dischargers. Our concern is that Montana has finally adopted strong, necessary rules that protect local water quality and fisheries but, at the same time, provided loopholes from compliance.
Instead of limiting the availability of variances to small communities that simply don’t – and will likely never – have the resources to implement pollution control technologies, Montana made variances available to industry, big cities, and big business. Further, the variances can apply broadly across an entire sector, and can last for 20 years, at the end of which a polluter may not even have to be in compliance! Together these and other problems mean big polluters can avoid doing their part to help protect water quality in Montana – something that common sense and the law doesn’t allow.
Strong pollution rules that limit the amount of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) we can have in local waterways is a good thing for Montana! It will help decisionmakers assess projects and require appropriate mitigation to make sure no harm comes to local waterways, gives us a baseline for better protecting our fisheries, provides certainty to business and, in turn, strengthens Montana’s clean water economy by ensuring we have clean water for present and future generations.
Stay tuned as we review EPA’s approval of Montana’s numeric nutrient WQS rules to ensure the adequately protect Montana’s water and fisheries as required by federal law and Montana’s constitution!