We’ve submitted comments to DEQ on its draft implementing rules for Senate Bill 325 including, notably, another “variance” rule that would exempt certain polluters from doing their part to reduce pollution to Montana waterways.
The effect of SB 325’s variance rule would be to set up a new regulatory loophole allowing industry and municipalities discharging pollution to a waterway to do less to reduce their pollutant discharges (have weaker permit limits than otherwise) because a waterway is already polluted by man-made action, and where the sources of pollution are not easily fixed.
Make sense as a practical way to protect waterways? No – doesn’t make sense to us either. Sounds a lot like a free-ride to dischargers who need to do their part to reduce pollution to Montana’s waterways.
Congress enacted the federal Clean Water Act over 40 years ago with the promise and goal to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” SB 325’s draft variance rule leaves this holistic, waterway health-based management approach in the dust in favor of a utilitarian-based approach to waterway management that sanctions more pollution from dischargers so long as they are not a primary cause of waterway impairment.
Montana needs to invest our time and resources into not only implementing strong pollution standards that protect our waterways, but likewise focus our attention on restoring those waterways which are already hurting. Giving certain polluters a free ride because it is expensive or complicated to fix long-standing human caused river problems is not the way to protect Montana’s environment; rather, it is an ingenious way to slowly but surely degrade it on a slippery slope of loose pollution rules.