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Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC)

Seeking Stronger Oversight for Permit Renewals

June 06, 2014

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    Fairy Falls
    Photo by Mark Riskedahl

By Andrew Hawley

Reducing polluted runoff from industrial facilities continues to be one of NEDC’s highest priorities. Relying heavily on our crew of student volunteers, NEDC selects dozens of industrial facilities throughout Oregon and Washington each year for close inspection and review.  For each of these facilities, NEDC takes several steps to determine if the facility is complying with the Clean Water Act (CWA).  This can include a site visit, where we will collect samples of the discharge from the facility, and a file review at the regulating agency’s office where we inspect the agency’s files on the facility to ensure compliance with the law.

In addition, NEDC regularly comments on applications for stormwater permits issued under the CWA. Recently, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) renewed the general permits it issues to industrial facilities, and each facility must apply for coverage under this new permit. As part of the process, each site must develop a pollution control plan detailing how the facility will prevent, reduce or eliminate pollution from entering the stormwater that it discharges.

NEDC has been busy reviewing these renewal requests and we have seen a disturbing trend as of late.  In many cases, DEQ appears to have been processing permit applications without critically reviewing the pollution control plans produced by the facilities. NEDC worked hard to require applicants to use basic checklists during the application review process as a quality control measure. In some cases, applicants fail to check the required boxes and yet the agency has processed the applications regardless.  As a result, DEQ is proposing to grant permit coverage without ensuring that each facility will comply with the law.  This is, of course, unacceptable.  NEDC has pushed back, highlighting the agency’s failure to enforce its own permit and the CWA, and calling on the agency to license only those facilities that have taken the required steps to protect our waters.  

We’ll keep you updated on our progress.