Judge Orders U.S. EPA to Act on Lake Erie’s Water Quality

A jar of water taken from Lake Erie's Maumee Bay in September 2017 [Elizabeth Miller/ideastream]

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action on Ohio’s 2016 list of impaired waters within 30 days.

In his 25-page order, Judge James Carr criticizes both the Ohio EPA and its federal counterpart for refusing to comply with several parts of the Clean Water Act. 

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie brought the lawsuit last year against the U.S. EPA. The main issue is whether western Lake Erie should be declared an impaired watershed.

Under federal law, that designation forces the state to establish daily limits on pollution.

Last month, Ohio EPA decided to include Western Lake Erie in its 2018 list.  In his order, Judge Carr says Ohio’s decision does not “moot or reduce the need for me to retain jurisdiction” over the 2016 list. 

If the U.S. EPA disapproves the 2016 list, the federal government could take responsibility for designating Western Lake Erie “impaired” and set pollution limits. Judge Carr notes this might allow the process to move forward “sooner than it would following approval of a 2018 impairment listing.” That process is currently in the public comment period and still requires U.S. EPA approval.

Judge Carr expressed concerns with the manner of US EPA’s action and lack of communication with the court.

Carr says U.S. EPA’s “oversight” to inform him of its decision to withdraw approval of Ohio’s 2016 list “amplifies the whiff of bad faith arising from the timing of its inexplicably delayed notice to plantiffs’ counsel.”

In a statement, Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center says “we’re pleased that the federal district court directed U.S. EPA to comply with the Clean Water Act and make a clear determination within 30 days that Lake Erie’s open waters are impaired by pollution.”

The Ohio EPA says it is still reviewing Carr’s decision.

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