EPA’s Charles River Two-Step

charles15At least since the Standells’ Dirty Water in 1966, cleaning up the Charles River has been on the mind of Bostonians (and Cantabrigians and those farther upriver).  Notwithstanding significant recent progress, there remains work to do.  The questions are, as always, how much and who pays?  Is this largely a municipal infrastructure problem?  Is it just a matter of better implementation of some simple best management practices?  Is it a private sector problem?

One thing we do know.  It’s not easy and won’t be cheap.

EPA has been caught in the crossfire – pressured by CLF to do more, by the municipalities to recognize the strain on municipal budgets, and by developers and other private sector interests not to try to solve the problem on their backs.  What’s EPA’s current thinking?  Two developments this week give a pretty good idea.

Last Monday, the Boston Globe reported that EPA was about to release its small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) general permit.  EPA’s last draft was roundly criticized, not just by municipalities, but even by MassDEP.  We’ll see how EPA fares this time around.

Hard on the heels of the MS4 announcement, CLF announced that it was refiling its complaint against EPA for EPA’s failure “to notify commercial, industrial, institutional, and high density residential dischargers responsible for stormwater runoff in the Charles River watershed that they must apply for NPDES discharge permits.”  CLF originally filed this law suit last April, amid speculation that CLF was negotiating a deal with EPA.  They promptly dropped the suit without explanation, though the dismissal did follow immediately after NAIOP MA, the real estate trade group, intervened as a defendant.  CLF’s decision to sue again, particularly right after EPA went public with its intention to issue the MS4 permit, leads to two inferences:

  1. CLF doesn’t believe that the MS4 permit by itself will solve the problems in the Charles River, and
  1. EPA did not give CLF any assurances that it was prepared to do more at this point. It appears that EPA wants to let the MS4 process play out before taking any more aggressive actions.

As the Standells might have said, the beat goes on.

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