IDEM and EPA continue waterway dispute
Indiana’s top environmental agency and the federal government continue to battle it out over a proposed list of impaired waterways that local activists claim omits several rivers polluted by coal mines.
More than 70 percent of Indiana’s 45,000 miles of waterways are considered impaired by the state, said Indiana Department of Environmental Management Integrated Report Coordinator Jody Arthur.
Most of the impairments are due to E. coli and excessive amounts of PCBs and mercury in fish tissue. Because each state tallies their information differently, it’s not known exactly how Indiana stacks up against other states when it comes to water pollution.
Each state is required to submit an updated inventory of impaired waterways to the Environmental Protection Agency every two years. IDEM’s currently compiling its 2012 list, while still wrestling with the feds over the not-yet-approved 2010 register.
The two agencies continue to debate whether bodies of water with abnormal levels of aluminum and iron should be included in the list. Present in an earlier draft, they were later removed after complaints from powerful lobbying groups. Both the Indiana Coal Council and the Indiana Energy Association claimed the state didn’t allow for public input when it added those criteria, thus violating procedure. IDEM’s top attorney at the time, David R. Joest, agreed and those creeks and waterways were scrubbed from the list.
But Sierra Club Conservation Program Coordinator Bowden Quinn claims there’s more to the story.
Peabody Energy plans to expand the existing Bear Run mine into the largest coal-mining facility in the eastern United States in the coming years; Duke Energy’s controversial Edwardsport Plant may use up to 2 million tons of Bear Run coal a year on its own, according to SourceWatch.
That mine, along with nearly every other mine in Indiana, operates under a state general permit that’s much less stringent – and ultimately less costly — than an individual permit, which the federal government is demanding.
“Gov. Daniels wants to make Indiana coal as cheap as possible, so they’re obviously not going to do anything that might make it even a little more expensive,” Quinn says, adding he didn’t know how big of an impact clean water regulations would have on the mine’s bottom line.
When the coal companies objected to listing those waterways, there was little doubt they’d be removed, Quinn notes. Joest, the attorney who advised the state to reject the criteria, was Peabody Energy’s top lobbyist for years before joining IDEM, inciting howls of protests from environmental activists. He’s since moved on to Evansville-based law firm Rhine Ernest LLP.
EPA officials pointed out in 2010 that several bodies of water near Bear Run failed to meet water quality standards and needed extra pollution controls in place. But IDEM claims the mines are not responsible for the contamination. Despite the lobbying from the coal council and the closeness of the mines, “none of the waterways’ (pollution) can be attributed to a specific point source,” said Arthur.
It’s not known for sure what, if any, health risks the increased levels of aluminum and iron in water pose to humans. However, Scientists have found links between high concentrations of aluminum in the brain to diseases affecting the nervous system, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
EPA Spokesman Pete Cassell was fairly tight-lipped about the negotiations, refusing to comment on reports his agency and IDEM disagree over the list as it currently stands. But both he and Arthur agreed the EPA has the authority to approve all or part of the list, as well as reinsert the disputed waterways. It’s expected the feds will do just that, then open the list up to yet another round of public comment. After 30 days, assuming no changes are made, the list would become final and be presented to the state water pollution board.
If that happened, Arthur refused to say if the state would include those disputed waterways in its 2012 list.
“I don’t know how we’ll respond until the EPA moves forward,” Arthur said.
To learn more about the impaired waterway list and to make your feelings known about polluted streams, creeks and rivers, visit IDEM’s website.
How impaired waterways affect Hoosiers:
E. coli impairments indicate the possibility of the presence of pathogens in the water that could make us sick if we swim in it or drink untreated water.
Nutrients (i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus) promote algae growth, especially in lakes, reservoirs or still waters along rivers and streams. Algae may cause odor and taste problems, deter recreation such as fishing or boating, and can have economic impacts by deterring tourism or lowering home values, which has been a concern for people living on Geist Reservoir.
Mercury in the water becomes methylmercury in wetlands, which is taken up by plants and bioaccumulates in fish, potentially causing reproductive problems in women who eat the fish and learning disabilities in children.
Metal impairments alter the aquatic habitat, killing fish or detering their reproduction, depriving us of good fishing habitat.
Sierra Club’s Bowden Quinn explains the disagreements over IDEM’s 2010 list, and the delisting of impaired waterways.
“(The) EPA disagrees with IDEM’s decision not to list impaired waters using ‘derived criteria,’ which is a way to determine the toxicity of substances for which there are no listed numeric criteria in our water quality standards. The substances at issue here are primarily aluminum and iron. The EPA also disagrees with IDEM’s decision not to list waters using total metal analysis rather than dissolved metals.”
Sierra Club requested that IDEM discuss the list at the May water pollution control board meeting.
Sierra Club has prepared comments on the draft list that will be submitted to IDEM, signed by the chapter, Hoosier Environmental Council, Save the Dunes Council, the Save Maumee Program of Lake Erie Waterkeeper, Indiana CAFO Watch, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center of Chicago.
According to Carey Lykins, Citizens Energy Group President and CEO, “There is nothing more essential to a community’s health and vitality than access to safe, reliable drinking water.”
Although Americans have what seems like an endless supply of safe drinking water, Citizens Energy Group urges people to conserve water, because people consume fresh water more than it can be naturally replenished.
People can take numerous, common sense steps to conserve water, such as:
Run your dishwasher when it is entirely full.
Shorten the length of your showers.
Don’t leave the water running when brushing your teeth or washing your face.
Install low-flow toilets and faucets.
Water your lawn once a week.
Note: when you do water your yard or plants, water between 4 and 7 a.m., because watering in the middle of the day leads to higher levels of evaporation.
For an exhaustive list on conserving water, visit this website.
226 million lbs of toxins in our waterways in 2010.
The Ohio river is the most polluted national waterway, with 32,116,310 lbs of toxic pollutants.
Pollution from just five states—Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Texas, and Georgia—accounted for nearly forty percent of the total amount of pollution dumped into our waterways in 2010.
Nitrates accounted for nearly 90 percent of the total volume of discharges to waterways reported in 2010. Nitrates are toxic, particularly to infants consuming formula made with nitrate-laden drinking water, who may be susceptible to methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby” syndrome, a disease that reduces the ability of blood to carry oxygen throughout the body.
For all five pieces of the Squandered Indiana series click here.