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Maine Files Suit Against U.S. EPA Over Federal Government’s Failure To Act On Maine’s Water Quality Standards Under the Clean Water Act
July 8, 2014
(AUGUSTA) The State of Maine has filed a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal District Court in Bangor over the EPA’s failure to approve Maine’s water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, the EPA has a duty to either approve Maine’s revisions to its water quality standards or identify changes required for the EPA’s approval. According to the State, the EPA has done neither. Instead, over the past ten years the EPA has approved Maine’s water quality standards for the State generally but has taken no action for some unspecified waters that the EPA claims are within Indian territories. For well over a year, the State has requested that the EPA identify the affected Maine waters and explain what standards the EPA believes apply to those waters. The federal agency has declined to answer the State’s questions.
Maine DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho and Attorney General Janet Mills contend that the EPA’s failure to act has created regulatory uncertainty for all Mainers, who now have no way of knowing what waters are or are not subject to Maine’s water quality standards. According to Aho, “this is not a problem caused by the State, Maine’s Indian tribes, or anyone else in Maine; it is a failure on the part of the EPA to fulfill its legal duties under the Clean Water Act, pure and simple.”
Mills added: “The EPA appears to be suggesting that the same river might be subject to different environmental standards, which makes no sense. Where those stretches are, and what the standards may be, are anyone’s guess. Maine’s water quality standards, in the tradition of Senator Edmund Muskie and Senator George Mitchell, are some of the best in the nation. And there is no question regarding Maine’s authority here. The federal First Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007 conclusively held that Maine’s environmental regulatory jurisdiction applies uniformly throughout Maine, including waters within Maine Indian territories.”
The State believes that Maine communities and its citizens are entitled to clear answers from the court, if not the EPA, regarding the statewide application of Maine’s water quality standards. Among other things, the State’s lawsuit seeks a court declaration that, despite the EPA’s failure to act on Maine’s revisions to its water quality standards, those revisions are now deemed approved and in effect throughout Maine.