Wyo CBM policy violates Clean Water Act, EPA says

THE STATE OF WYOMING has been informed by the federal government—once again—that some of its policies related to the pumping and dumping of coal-bed methane water violate the Clean Water Act.

In a letter dated Nov. 13, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency instructed the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality that it cannot modify drainage-wide water discharge permits in the Pumpkin Creek and Willow Creek watersheds, as the DEQ has proposed.

The proposed changes for these two particular drainages would contravene federal law because they would fail to protect native grasses in the area, according to the EPA.

These are the only so-called general watershed permits to have been issued by the DEQ. As opposed to traditional permits for individual sources of pollution, the DEQ has attempted to streamline the permitting process by creating a general permit for one type of pollution throughout an entire drainage.

“The two drainages in question flow into the Powder River, and the Wyoming Outdoor Council has argued from the start that these drainage-wide coal-bed methane permits violate the law,” said Steve Jones, watershed protection program attorney with the Council.

The Council believes the traditional approach of issuing individual permits ensures greater public participation and more careful scrutiny, Jones said.

OUTDOOR COUNCIL APPEALED THE PERMITS

The two permits in question were issued in September of 2006, but were appealed by the Wyoming Outdoor Council. After a hearing on these permits in April of 2008, the state’s Environmental Quality Council substantially modified them to better protect for the growth and production of natives grasses.WyomingMapPumpkinWillow

Native grasses are important to ranchers in that their cattle or other livestock utilize such grasses as a primary food source and thus the ability of ranchers’ cattle to grow and thrive is directly connected to the health of native grasses in riparian areas along the streams and creeks of the Powder River Basin.

In August of 2009, one year after the EQC imposed substantially stricter requirements on the watershed general permits, the DEQ moved to eliminate the restrictions through proposed major modifications to them. These permit revisions would have eliminated protections for native grasses because they would have allowed higher levels of salty water to be dumped into each drainage.

The DEQ attempted to make the drainage-wide water dumping acceptable by employing the dubious approach of using “irrigation waivers,” where landowners in each drainage had signed statements indicating that they waived any concerns they might have had for protecting native grasses within their respective property.

The EPA said the DEQ cannot accept such waivers, because it plainly violates the federal Clean Water Act.

“Basically, the EPA told the DEQ that individual landowners cannot waive the requirements of the Clean Water Act,” Jones said. “No individual has the power to waive such statutory requirements.”

The Wyoming Outdoor Council made a similar argument against the waivers in September.

LINKS:

* For a copy of the EPA’s November 13 letter to the Wyoming DEQ, click here.
* For a copy of the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s comments on the proposed 2009 irrigation waiver in the Pumpkin Creek area, click here.
* And for the comments on the proposed waiver in the Willow Creek area click here.

Media Contact: Steve Jones, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-332-7031 x12; steve@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org.

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