EPA criticized for selective enforcement

Published September 1, 2001

The Environmental Protection Agency has come under fire from politicians and environmentalists for selectively enforcing EPA regulations. At issue are charges that the agency has vigorously enforced prohibitions in rural America while turning a blind eye to blatant violations inside the politically connected Washington beltway.

“The EPA speaks out of both sides of its mouth,” stated House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas). “While zealously enforcing extremist environmental regulations against average Americans in the West, the EPA turns a blind eye to dumping pollution through a Washington, D.C. national park.”

DeLay was referring to large amounts of toxic chemicals and impurities being dumped into the C&O Canal National Historic Park and into the Potomac, an American Heritage River.

“The EPA doesn’t stop the practice because of political pressure brought by affluent Northwest Washington residents who don’t want to be inconvenienced by a few dump trucks rumbling through their neighborhoods,” asserted Rob Gordon, director of the National Wilderness Institute. “The sediment is laced with chemicals toxic to endangered sturgeon and their eggs.”

The Army Corps of Engineers currently diverts water from the Potomac, treats it with chemicals to purify it for drinking, and then sends the treated water to sedimentation basins. After the treated drinking water is piped out, sediments and chemicals that are toxic to fish remain in the basins and are flushed back into the Potomac. The National Wilderness Institute has sued EPA for not putting an end to the practice.

“The suit is blowing the whistle by saying if you apply the law in one region in the country, you must apply it the same way in others,” said Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho).

Added Representative George Radanovich (R-California), “We want to see the Endangered Species Act enforced right here in Washington, where the law was passed.”

Republican California Congressman Wally Herger asserted that the dumping policy was a holdover from Clinton patronage. “While the Clinton administration and local politicians courted the special favor of an affluent area in Washington, D.C., the Endangered Species Act and the interests of an endangered species were subverted.”

NWI’s Gordon noted the toxic dumping has continued since residents from politically connected Georgetown drafted a letter complaining that enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would inconvenience them and drive down their property values.

According to the letter, enforcement of the ESA against Potomac dumping would, “if strictly interpreted, force the Washington Aqueduct Authority, which processes our drinking water, to stop discharge of sediments back into the Potomac River. The results would be higher water rates for customers.” The letter further complained that trucks “would have to pass through residential neighborhoods,” causing noise and disturbance “generally reducing the quality of living in our neighborhoods, and thus the value of homes.”