Oregon Water Quality Standards Challenged in NWEA Lawsuit


Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA) has filed yet another lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relating to Oregon water quality standards.

The latest lawsuit, filed in September of 2012, asserts that EPA violated the federal Clean Water Act by approving certain temperature TMDL’s in watersheds across the state. The lawsuit also contends that EPA violated the CWA by approving a TMDL for mercury in the Willamette Basin. The lawsuit, arising under the Administrative Procedure Act, aims to demonstrate that existing TMDL’s are inadequate and do not meet the biological needs of fishery resources. For those unfamiliar with the term, a TMDL is an enforceable legal rule establishing the maximum amount of a pollutant that a given water body can receive without exceeding water quality standards.

The latest lawsuit follows on the heels of a significant NWEA legal victory, earlier this year, in which U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta agreed with many of NWEA’s arguments challenging Oregon’s water quality standards for temperature under the CWA, as well as the Endangered Species Act. The prior ruling, if it is not successfully appealed, will require state and federal agencies to review how Oregon regulates the temperatures of it rivers and streams for the purpose of protecting fish.

In addition to challenging Oregon’s water quality standards in the courts, NWEA has recently been active in pursuing changes relating to water quality standards through administrative rulemaking proceedings. For example, on August 9, 2012, NWEA filed a petition with the Oregon EQC requesting rulemaking to adopt pesticide use regulations into Oregon’s water quality standards, along with other changes. While the petition for rulemaking was denied on October 25, 2012, it is expected that NWEA’s will continue to advocate for the changes described in its petition through available legislative, administrative, and legal channels.

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