Topeka Two environmental groups are making good on a promise to sue a federal agency for not putting new water regulations for Kansas into effect quickly enough.
The Sierra Club and the Kansas Natural Resource Council notified the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday that they intend to sue the EPA if the agency does not put its proposed water standards into effect by Dec. 3.
The groups argue that the new standards should have taken effect Sunday. Those standards include a requirement for the state to regulate water quality in lakes and ponds on private land, including farm ponds.
Charles Benjamin, a Lawrence attorney representing the state chapter of the Sierra Club, said the EPA is not following a timetable for imposing regulations established by the 1972 federal Clean Water Act.
"In our view, they have violated the law," Benjamin said. "They have 60 days to remedy the situation."
The Clean Water Act requires groups to give the EPA 60 days' notice before filing a lawsuit over water quality standards. The groups would file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Benjamin said.
Benjamin said the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to issue rules and regulations 90 days after publishing proposed standards. The standards were published July 3.
"The law says 'shall,' not 'may,' not 'if they feel like it,"' Benjamin said. "The words are very clear."
Jamie Clover Adams, the state's agriculture secretary, said she is disappointed that the two groups filed the notice. Adams is critical of the standards, arguing that they are too intrusive and emphasize paperwork over results.
The EPA had planned hearings on its proposed regulations in July, less than a month after it published them. However, it postponed those hearings until last month and extended the period for submitting public comments until Oct. 16.
Adams said the two groups are trying to rush the EPA into a decision on the regulations.
"It just sounds to me like they don't want the EPA to consider what people are bringing forth," Adams said. "I hope the EPA doesn't bow to that pressure."
Officials with the EPA's regional office in Kansas City did not return phone calls left by The Associated Press.
The new standards address what EPA sees as deficiencies in state standards on designating rivers and lakes for different uses, streams with low flows, stream beds where waste discharges create the only flow and limitations on a certain pollutant.
However, much of the criticism from state officials and agriculture groups has focused on the proposal to extend water quality standards to lakes and ponds on private land.
The EPA agreed to write new water quality regulations under the settlement of a 1999 federal lawsuit filed by the two environmental groups. The groups sued because they felt the EPA was taking too long to correct deficiencies it identified in 1994 state standards.
Benjamin noted that the Clean Water Act became federal policy nearly three decades ago.
"It's about time to get the Clean Water Act enforced in Kansas," he said. "We don't think we've been impatient."
Adams said the EPA should have the opportunity to consider Kansans' concerns about the standards.
"They're just trying to hold the EPA's feet to the fire," Adams said of the environmental groups.