7 Northeast States to Force EPA Action on Mercury in Fish

With a never-before-used provision of the Clean Water Act (CWA), seven Northeast states have triggered a mandatory process for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control the atmospheric deposition of mercury that makes fish throughout the Northeast unsafe to eat. The states' petition is authorized by CWA Section 319(g), which requires EPA to craft agreements to resolve multi-state pollution issues.

"We've filed scientifically rigorous clean-up plans that have been endorsed by EPA, but there is still no credible work to make our fish safe to eat. This petition is another avenue to keep dirty power plants' feet to the fire," noted Commissioner David Littell of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in an Oct. 28 press release.

The seven states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont—collaborated with the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) to prepare the petition. Section 319(g) requires the EPA Administrator to respond to the petition by convening a management conference including all states that are significant sources of the mercury in Northeast waters. Then the agency has to develop an agreement among such states to reduce the level of pollution and improve the water quality of the New England states and New York State. This unprecedented multi-state action underscores the determination of the Northeast states to resolve the main cause of contaminated fish—mercury deposited in the Northeast from sources outside the region.

In the Northeast, there are more than 10,000 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, and over 46,000 river miles in the region where the fish are not safe to eat because of atmospheric mercury contamination.

"Since 1998 the Northeast states have been working aggressively to control our sources of mercury to the environment. In the four years from 1998 to 2002, we have reduced our own mercury pollution by 74 percent, and more reductions have been made since then," said Andrew Fisk, director of the Bureau of Land and Water Quality for the Maine DEP.

"All Northeast states have emissions controls on our utilities that meet our plan's requirements for out-of-region sources. If it can be done in our states, it can be done in other states. We are asking for a stringent federal program that would require just that."

The filing of the petition is not the first time that the seven states have collaborated in a major move to address mercury contamination. In June 2006, they were among the 16 states that sued the federal government over the legality of EPA's Clean Air Mercury Rule, which would have limited mercury reductions to 70 percent and delayed those until 2018. In October 2007, the Northeast states submitted to EPA a clean-up plan for mercury contaminated water called the Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The TMDL states the precise amount of out-of-region mercury reductions to make fish safe to eat. Late last year, EPA approved the TMDL and endorsed the needed reductions, and earlier this year the states prevailed in federal appeals court when EPA's Clean Air Mercury Rule was declared invalid.

"We look forward to sitting down at the table with EPA to develop an agreement," said Littell. "The goals are clear, and the technology needed to meet them is available. Let's get to work so that our fish are safe to eat."

For more information, visit www.neiwpcc.org/mercury.

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