Coalition Takes Action Against EPA for Failing to Implement Clean Water Act - Waterkeeper

Coalition Takes Action Against EPA for Failing to Implement Clean Water Act

By: Waterkeeper Alliance

Shutterstock | Phil Pasquini

Today, the Environmental Integrity Project, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Center for Biological Diversity sent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a notice of intent to sue for its failure to issue national reports on water quality, which is a key requirement of the federal Clean Water Act.

The landmark 1972 law requires EPA to report on the condition of America’s streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries at least once every two years. But EPA’s last national water quality report was released seven years ago, in 2017, according to the notice, which is the first required step before a federal lawsuit.

In addition to this legal action, a broader national coalition of more than 50 clean water organizations sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan today urging the agency to also fix two other major problems: Failing, for decades in some cases, to update and strengthen technology-based standards for industry water pollution control systems; and not identifying the funding needed to fulfill EPA’s Clean Water Act responsibilities.

Kelly Hunter Foster, Waterkeeper Alliance Senior Attorney, said: “Congress made biennial water quality reports from EPA mandatory for good reason – they are necessary for lawmakers to determine the effectiveness of the Clean Water Act. Waterkeepers and a myriad of stakeholders across the country have historically relied on the accessibility of this analysis and reporting on state and national water data to protect their local waterways and advocate for essential pollution controls.”

“With all of the environmental challenges our nation faces, it’s critically important that EPA doesn’t forget about the Clean Water Act – a cornerstone law that has been neglected and only partially implemented,” said Meg Parish, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project.  “The Clean Water Act can’t live up to its promise if EPA won’t report on polluted waterways, as required, or update its standards to keep pace with technology.”

Hannah Connor, Environmental Health Deputy Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “The EPA has obscured essential information about waterway pollution and aquatic ecosystem health for seven years, leaving us no choice but to launch this lawsuit.  I urge agency officials to quickly provide this assessment of how much states and the EPA have done to reduce pollution, how much remains to be done, and what actions are needed to restore polluted waterways to health.”  

About half of America’s river and stream miles that have been assessed are so polluted they are unsafe for fishing, swimming, or the other public uses the Clean Water Act was meant to protect, according to the most recent available state reports, some of which date back a decade.

Hundreds of chemical plants, refineries and other industries are releasing grossly high levels of pollution into local waterways because of EPA’s outdated and weak technology-based pollution control guidelines (called effluent limitation guidelines). Examples based on data from EPA and state records include the following:

 LOUISIANA: The world’s largest ammonia production facility, the CF Industries Donaldsonville Nitrogen Complex, an hour west of New Orleans, discharged over 3.1 million pounds of total nitrogen into the Mississippi River in 2021, as much as 25 average municipal sewage treatment plants. Nitrogen feeds excessive algal blooms and low-oxygen “dead zones.”

TEXAS: The OxyChem Ingleside plant on the Gulf Coast, which produces vinyl chloride and other chemical products, discharged an estimated 687,840 pounds of total nitrogen into Corpus Christi Bay in 2023, more than five average sewage treatment plants.  

OHIO: Kraton Polymers, a synthetic rubber polymer manufacturer in Belpre, OH, approximately 100 miles southeast of Columbus on the Ohio-West Virginia border, discharged an estimated 488,467 pounds of total nitrogen into the Ohio River in 2023, about 1,340 pounds per day.

WEST VIRGINIA: The Chemours Washington Works plastics plant, about 60 miles north of Charleston, WV on the Ohio-West Virginia border, discharged an estimated 418,122 pounds of total nitrogen into the Ohio River in 2023, about 1,145 pounds per day, from its wastewater outfalls. The facility’s permit requires monitoring and reporting, but has no limits for nitrogen pollution.

 INDIANA: The BP Whiting refinery beside Lake Michigan discharged nearly 3,600 pounds of selenium, which can be toxic to fish, into the lake in 2021.  It also released more than 30 million pounds of total dissolved solids and 9 million pounds of chloride, both of which can kill aquatic life at high concentrations, and 574,008 pounds of nitrogen, among many other pollutants.

Some of EPA’s effluent guidelines for industry date back four decades, including those for  Inorganic Chemicals (last updated in 1982), Petroleum Refining (1985), Fertilizer Manufacturing (1986), and the makers of Organic Chemicals, Plastics, and Synthetic Fibers (1994).  (See list on attached fact sheet).

At the agency’s current pace of updating these standards, which are supposed to be tightened as technologies improve, it may be a century before EPA modernizes industrial discharge guidelines set in an era before desktop computers and cell phones.

Betsy Southerland, former Director of EPA’s Office of Science and Technology, said: “EPA’s effluent limitation guidelines have been on life support since most of its staff and funds were transferred to other programs in 2000.  Consequently, the discharge of industrial pollutants posing serious risks to public health and the environment, including newly recognized pollutants such as PFAS, has continued unabated for decades.” 

For a copy of the notice of intent to sue EPA, click here.

For a copy of the letter signed by the allied organizations, click here.

For a policy brief on water pollution from chemical plants and plastics facilities, click here.

The organizations signing the letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan urging action include:

412 Justice 

Anacostia Riverkeeper

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper

Bayou City Waterkeeper

Black Warrior Riverkeeper

Blue Water Baltimore

Cape Fear River Watch 

Center for Biological Diversity 

Centro de Apoyo Familiar

Chesapeake Legal Alliance

Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper 

Citizens’ Environmental Association of the Slippery Rock Area, Inc.

Citizens’ Environmental Association Of The Slippery Rock Area

Clean Water Action

Coastal Carolina Riverwatch

Community Water Center


Environmental Protection Network

First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh

Food & Water Watch

FracTracker Alliance

FreshWater Accountability Project

Friends of Quincy Run Watershed

Friends of the Rappahannock

Healthy Gulf

Kentucky Waterways Alliance

Lake Erie Waterkeeper

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association 

Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper

Mountain Watershed Association


Ohio RIver Foundation

Patuxent Riverkeeper


Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Protect Elizabeth Township 

Protect Penn-Trafford (PT)

Rachel Carson Council

Raritan Riverkeeper

River Network

San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper 


Sierra Club

Snake River Waterkeeper 

Suncoast Waterkeeper

Surfrider Foundation

Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation Inc.

Sweet Springs Watershed Association

Tampa Bay Waterkeeper

The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans

Three Rivers Waterkeeper

Tualatin Riverkeepers

Upper Allegheny Riverkeeper 

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper

Waterkeeper Alliance

Waterkeepers Chesapeake 

Winyah Rivers Alliance

Women for a Healthy Environment

Yough Communities Care