FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Kate Madigan, (517) 485-5029
March 30, 2004 Megan Owens, (734) 662-6597
Michigan Polluters Continue to Violate Clean Water Act
PIRGIM Calls on Legislators to Fully Fund Clean Water Enforcement
Lansing, Michigan— More than 45% of industrial and municipal facilities across Michigan polluted more than their Clean Water Act permits allowed between January 2002 and June 2003, according to a new report released today by PIRGIM. Michigan facilities that violate their permits do so at some of the highest rates in the country, by 23 times their legal limit on average.
“It is time for our state to crack down on illegal polluters and protect the lakes and rivers that belong to the people of Michigan,” stated PIRGIM Environmental Advocate Kate Madigan. “The real problem is that the state legislature continues to underfund our clean water programs. We need to make sure that our legislators give the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) proper funding to catch and punish violators.”
Madigan added that the MDEQ budget has been dramatically cut in recent years, from $101 million in 2001 to $38 million in last years budget, meaning fewer dollars are going to enforcement than in previous years. The agreement that the Governor and legislators reached last week over permit fees means that permit holders will start covering part of the cost for this program, but the program still is grossly underfunded. Further cuts have been proposed for the 2005 budget, which legislators are now considering.
“When polluting companies know that the DEQ does not have the resources to properly enforce the law, they are more likely to violate their permits, and our waterways suffer as a result,” continued Madigan. “This is a vicious cycle that will end only when we properly fund clean water enforcement.”
While the 1972 Clean Water Act has made strides in cleaning up U.S. waterways, the law’s original goal of making all U.S. waterways safe for fishing, swimming and other uses by 1983 has not been attained. Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), PIRGIM obtained data on facilities’ compliance with the Clean Water Act between January 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003. PIRGIM researchers found that:
• Polluters in Michigan reported 565 exceedances of their Clean Water Act permits during the 18-month period.
• On average, Michigan facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permits did so by 2312%, or by 23 times their legal limit. This is the fifth worst in the country.
• In August 2002, Great Lakes Pulp and Fibre released 89 times more mercury in the Menominee River than legally permitted;
• Many of the violators repeatedly exceeded their permits. Petoskey Wastewater Treatment Plant reported 51 permit violations over the 18 months studied, discharging large amounts of waste into Little Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan.
Madigan noted that these findings are likely conservative, since the data that PIRGIM analyzed includes only “major” facilities and does not include pollution discharged by hundreds of thousands of minor facilities across the country. The data do not include paperwork violations, such as late filings of Discharge Monitoring Reports.
PIRGIM called on the Michigan legislature to fully fund state clean water enforcement programs under the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). PIRGIM also called on the Bush administration to back off its efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act and to commit to strengthening, rather than weakening, enforcement of this landmark legislation.
”The Bush administration’s actions have only further weakened clean water enforcement by proposing to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) enforcement budget for fiscal year 2005 and weaken critical Clean Water Act programs,” charged Madigan. “At a time when our leaders should be looking for solutions, the Bush administration has proposed taking environmental cops off the beat and allowing more—not less—pollution to enter our waterways,” she continued.
In order to achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act, PIRGIM recommended the following:
Fully fund MDEQ’s and EPA’s enforcement programs to ensure that we have enough environmental cops on the beat to identify and punish polluters violating their Clean Water Act permits.
Strengthen enforcement of the Clean Water Act in Michigan by tightening permitted pollution limits, setting mandatory minimum penalties, revoking permits from repeat violators, and allowing citizens full access to the courts.
Maintain and expand the public’s right to know. The public should have full access to detailed and easily searchable information about enforcement of the Clean Water Act and pollution entering local waterways.
“Now more than ever, our state and federal leaders should act in the best interest of the environment and public health and hold polluters accountable to the Clean Water Act,” concluded PIRGIM’s Kate Madigan.
PIRGIM is a non-profit, non-partisan organization working throughout Michigan to preserve the environment, protect consumers, and promote democracy. To view the report, visit www.pirgim.org.
PIRGIM Environmental Advocate
1310 Turner Street, Suite B
Lansing, MI 48906