State, Local Environmental Groups Successfully Move US EPA to Protect Water Quality
New stormwater permit a step in the right direction, says Executive Director Patrick Herron.
Following a lawsuit by environmental groups, a long-awaited federal stormwater permit went into effect for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on July 1st. The permit requires municipalities to take additional steps to protect rivers, lakes, streams and ponds from polluted stormwater runoff. Contaminated stormwater is the biggest pollution problem in the Mystic River watershed.
A Remarkable Win for Clean Water
At stake was the revised Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4 permit, which was originally supposed to take effect in July 2017. Two days before its effective date, U.S. EPA Chief Scott Pruitt unilaterally delayed implementing the permit for another year even though it was already 10 years overdue. A coalition of nine watershed associations led by the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance sued the US EPA, arguing that Pruitt’s action was illegal, undermined protections to the environment, and put the health of Massachusetts residents and water bodies at risk.
Faced with the coalition’s lawsuit, EPA chose not to further delay the permit’s implementation, and on July 1, 2018, allowed the stormwater permit to go into effect. Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey also had urged EPA in a court-filed brief to end its delay.
“This is a significant victory for the Mystic,’’ said Patrick Herron, Executive Director at the Mystic River Watershed Association, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “During a time when environmental protections are under wholesale attack, I am proud that we were able to defend a strong, consensus stormwater standard. I look forward to working with municipalities, agencies, landowners and communities to further improve water quality and decrease public health risks.”
“Pruitt’s delay of Massachusetts’ MS4 permit was part of the Trump Administration’s pattern of rolling back and delaying environmental protections put in place by the prior administration,” said Julia Blatt, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We were concerned that if we did not challenge this illegal delay, the EPA would have been emboldened to simply continue it once it was due to expire. We appreciate the participation of our member organizations, such as MyRWA, and eight other watershed groups around the state. Massachusetts is lucky to have such an engaged an active environmental community.”
What Will Change
The revised MS4 permit requires towns to update their stormwater management plans, monitor outfall pipes, and prioritize cleanup of the most pressing problems, such as the discharge of untreated sewage into nearby waterways via storm drains. The permit also requires public outreach, stormwater recharge, and “good housekeeping” practices such as storm drain cleaning and street sweeping.
“When towns come up to the new MS4 standards, we’ll be much more able to keep pollutants out of our lakes and rivers,” said Catherine Pedemonti, Stormwater Educator at the Mystic River Watershed Association. “This means safer swimming, fishing and boating for people and a cleaner habitat for fish and wildlife.”
Read more about the MS4 permit here. The river groups are represented by Kevin Cassidy of Earthrise Law Center and Access to Justice Fellow Irene C. Freidel.