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AUGUST 6, 2002
12:07 PM
CONTACT:  US Public Interest Research Group
Richard Caplan (,
Liz Hitchcock (, 202-546-9707
Nearly 30% of Polluters Seriously Violating Clean Water Permits
Government faulted for lax enforcement of Clean Water Act
WASHINGTON - August 6 - Nearly 30% of the nation's largest industrial, municipal, and federal facilities were in serious violation of the Clean Water Act at least once during a recent 15-month period, according to a report released today by U.S. PIRG. Permit to Pollute: How the Government's Lax Enforcement of the Clean Water Act is Poisoning Our Waters describes many shortcomings in the monitoring of water pollution and efforts to deter polluters, at the same time that the Bush Administration has proposed slashing EPA's budget for enforcement.

"It is outrageous that the Bush Administration is proposing to slash enforcement budgets when nearly 30% of polluting facilities are breaking the law," said U.S. PIRG Environmental Advocate Richard Caplan. "With widespread violations of the law, this is no time for the Bush administration to take cops off the beat."

Using the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. PIRG obtained and analyzed the behavior of major facilities nationwide by reviewing violations of the Clean Water Act between January 2000 and March 2001, as recorded in U.S. EPA's Permit Compliance System database.

Major findings of the report include:

  • The ten states with the greatest number of major facilities in Significant Non-Compliance (SNC) were Texas, Ohio, New York, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
  • The ten states with the highest percentage of major facilities in SNC were Utah, Texas, Tennessee, Wyoming, the District of Columbia, Indiana, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Kansas, and Ohio.
  • 134 major facilities were in SNC during the entire 15 month period.

To bring about consistent compliance with permits and move toward the zero-discharge goals of the Clean Water Act, U.S. PIRG recommends the following:

  • Set tougher penalties. Penalties should be set high enough to remove any economic incentive for polluters to break the law and to deter lawbreaking in the first place.
  • Allow citizens full access to the courts. Obstacles to citizen suits should be removed, including current rules that bar citizens from suing federal facilities.
  • Expand the public's right to know. The public should have greater access to information about enforcement, including the requirement of submissions of comprehensive data by facilities that discharge into waterways and easy accessibility of that data through online Internet searches.

The goal of the Clean Water Act was to make U.S. waterways fishable and swimmable by 1983 and to achieve zero discharge of pollutants to waterways by 1985. However, according to the most recent EPA data, 40% of U.S. surface waters do not meet the fishable and swimmable standard. Representative Pallone (NJ) has introduced legislation (H.R. 5079) that would accomplish the recommendations listed above, and Sen. Corzine (NJ) is expected to introduce similar legislation shortly.

"As we near the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we urge Congress and the President to listen to the public's demands for clean water. The Administration's proposed cuts to EPA's enforcement budget take us in the wrong direction at the wrong time," concluded U.S. PIRG's Caplan.

U.S. PIRG is the national lobby office for the state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest advocacy groups. The report is available at


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