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Archive for Wednesday, August 25, 1999

EPA FACING LAWSUIT ON WATER STANDARDS

August 25, 1999

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It's the third time in seven years the Kansas Natural Resource Council and Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club have gone to court over the state's water standards.

Two environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week claiming the EPA shirked its duty in 1994 to enforce the federal Clean Water Act in Kansas.

The Kansas Natural Resource Council and state chapter of the Sierra Club filed the suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., under a federal statute that allows citizens to sue the EPA when it fails to enforce Clean Water Act standards on the states.

"This is one of the tools, along with lobbying and education, that we use to deal with the largest pollution issue in the state, which is water quality," said Charles Benjamin, a Lawrence attorney representing KNRC.

Dale Armstrong, a spokesman for EPA's regional office in Kansas City, said Tuesday that the agency had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

But, he said, EPA is still in the process of reviewing water quality standards for Kansas.

Under the Clean Water Act of 1972, states are required to update their water quality standards at least once every three years.

The suit filed Monday alleges that in1994, as part of its triennial review, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment proposed new water standards for the state, but several of them were rejected by EPA as insufficient.

According to Benjamin, that meant the state had 90 days to issue revised standards before the EPA was required to step in and impose its own standards.

But KDHE did not revise its standards, Benjamin said, and EPA never fulfilled its "nondiscretionary duty" to impose its own regulations.

Monday's lawsuit was the third time in the last seven years that the two environmental groups have gone to court over water quality standards in Kansas.

In 1992, the groups sued KDHE in Shawnee County District Court because Kansas had failed to issue new standards that were due after the 1991 review. A judge dismissed that suit because KDHE was able to show it was close to starting the review.

In 1995 the two environmental groups sued EPA in federal court after Kansas failed to establish Total Maximum Daily Loads, or "TMDLs" for pollutants on lakes rivers and streams that already had been shown to exceed the state's own water quality standards.

That suit was settled last summer when the state and federal agencies agreed to a specific timetable for issuing TMDLs.

The first of those timetables, which apply to water bodies in the Kansas-Lower Republican River Basin, were published the week of June 30 and are still being reviewed by EPA.

While that suit was working its way through the courts, Benjamin said, further developments were taking place in Kansas that could result in yet another lawsuit.

In 1997, as part of the latest review, KDHE proposed a list of water quality standards that would have imposed strict new limits on atrazine runoff from agricultural fields, as well as limits on ammonia and chlorides discharged from municipal sewage treatment plants.

In response to protests from agribusiness and local government lobbyists, Kansas lawmakers imposed a two-year moratorium on those standards and created a Kansas Surface Water Quality Commission to review the standards and suggest changes.

The commission's report resulted in new standards for atrazine, ammonia and chlorides that were adopted July 1.

According to Benjamin, the two environmental groups believe those standards are even less restrictive than the 1994 standards rejected by EPA.

-- Peter Hancock's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is phancock@ljworld.com.

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