This post is about more than coal but coal is a huge factor in the petition to remove ADEM from permitting authority!Green groups claim ADEM unable to protect waters
Last Modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 12:42 p.m.
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TUSCALOOSA | A coalition of 14 environmental groups from across Alabama are asking a federal agency to limit the power of the state to regulate water pollution, claiming Alabama has failed protect the state's waterways.
The Alabama Rivers Alliance, which includes Friends of Hurricane Creek, has filed a petition claiming that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is incapable of adequately enforcing water pollution regulations.
The petition was delivered today to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking that the federal agency remove ADEM's authority to grant discharge permits as well as remove the state agency's oversight of permits already granted.
“We have been very diligent in documenting the ongoing and chronic pollution sources, and ADEM has taken no effort to enforce even the most basic of regulations,” said John Wathen, head of the Tuscaloosa-based Friends of Hurricane Creek.
Scott Hughes, spokesman for ADEM, said the agency's lawyers had yet to review the full petition, and he was unable to comment on its content.
However, Hughes said it was a complaint that ADEM intends to take seriously.
“We have received notice of the petition, and we will work closely with the EPA to address all allegations in the petition,” he said. “We take very seriously, not only this petition, but the responsibility that we have to protect Alabama's land, air and water resources, on behalf of all Alabamians.”
Efforts to reach a spokesperson for the EPA also were unsuccessful this morning.
If successful, the claims in this petition could have a widespread effect on Alabama municipalities and construction efforts.
The Alabama Rivers Alliance is targeting ADEMs regulatory oversight of water pollution, known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which falls under the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act.
Each state is required to implement at least the minimum clean water standards required by the federal law.
The environmental coalition filed a 75-page petition with the EPA that documents what it believes are violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The petition is supported with more than 200 exhibits, ranging from ADEM-issued permits to at least 15 municipalities that currently are in violation of their wastewater discharge permits, the group claims.
“What we'd like to see this petition do in the short-term is to bring Alabama at least up to the standards of the national Clean Water Act or exceed them,” Wathen said.
Wathen and others said that the various environmental protection groups have worked with ADEM and the EPA to find ways to improve the state's water pollution regulations for more than a decade. The groups also have sought relief through lawsuits.
However, the coalition claims that efforts to improve ADEM's willingness to better regulate Alabama's water polluters has been met time and again with resistance.
“The water pollution permitting program administered by ADEM is fundamentally broken and does not meet minimum federal standards,” said Mitch Reid, director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. “This failure is a systemic, statewide problem. From funding to implementation to enforcement, the failures of the current system are leaving the citizens and environment of Alabama unprotected.”