Monday, November 14, 2005

More Opposition to Connecticut's Plan to Slow the Sound Cleanup

Save the Sound was the first to notice Connecticut’s attempt to put the brake on its part of the Long Island Sound cleanup. Now Audubon Connecticut has weighed in too. Here’s a statement from Carolyn Hughes, who used to be in charge of EPA’s Long Island Sound program and is now deputy director of Audubon Connecticut:

It has come to our attention that DEP is currently reviewing the General Permit for Nitrogen Discharges and the Nitrogen Credit Exchange Program, and is considering increasing the allowable limits of nitrogen by more than 1.5 million pounds per year over current levels for 2006. I am writing to express Audubon's strong opposition to increasing limits for nitrogen discharges.

The EPA Long Island Sound Study, in which the CT DEP is a major partner, has identified nitrogen loading as the single largest pollution problem in Long Island Sound. Excess nitrogen loading causes hypoxia, rendering much of the western Sound a biological "dead zone" during the summer months. Despite the significant progress to date in reducing nitrogen loading from sewage treatment plants in CT and NY, the Sound has experienced severe hypoxia for each of the past three summers, with the summer of 2004 the worst on record. To address the hypoxia problem in the Sound, EPA and the States of Connecticut and New York have committed to reducing the nitrogen load to the Sound by 58.5 percent by 2014.

To meet this goal, the CT DEP must continue to be aggressive in reducing nitrogen levels. To increase the allowable limits for 2006 is in direct conflict with the 2003 Long Island Sound Agreement signed by the Governors of CT and NY and the EPA calling for an aggressive program of nitrogen reduction. If the need for increased levels of clean water funding is the reason for the proposed relaxing of nitrogen discharge limits, Audubon and other non-profit organizations concerned about the Sound stand ready to work with our elected officials to see that the necessary funding is provided.

On behalf of our members, Audubon Connecticut strongly encourages DEP to remain committed to the 58.5 percent goal, and continue your excellent track record of reducing discharges of nitrogen to this important natural resource.

11:45 addendum: And here, for good measure, is an excerpt from Leah Lopez Schmaltz's testimony on the issue (Leah is Save the Sound's Director of Legislative and Legal Affairs):

Save the Sound has two primary comments that stem from this permit re-issuance:

1) Back-sliding

Upward modification of the 2006 annual discharge limits for total nitrogen constitutes backsliding.
The limits set forth in the original permit for year 2006 were deemed necessary and achievable by the agency. Anti-backsliding prohibits a permit from being re-issued with less stringent pollution control limits. The current permit draft adjusts the previous permit limits to allow the continued discharge of 4344 lbs/day, 1,585,560 lbs/year, or 792.78 tons/year of nitrogen (this is the equivalent of more than 158,556 bags of fertilizer (10 lb)); an amount that would have been required to be removed under the first permit.

The DEP is essentially re-issuing the permit one year early to avoid POTW non-compliance. The agency should not encourage the loosening of pre-established and vetted permit limits to protect dischargers from potential violations.

The DEP has indicated that the lack of Clean Water Funding, and thus the lack of money available for its upgrade program, is the primary culprit and the basis for the increase in the allowable nitrogen discharge. Unfortunately, one part of the state is constricting the abilities of another, but in the end, the state as a whole must accept responsibility. The solution is to obtain adequate funding, not to ease limits until such time as the funding makes itself available.

2) Clean Water Fund

The Connecticut Clean Water Fund is in dire need of attention.
The year 2003 marked a particularly dark turn in the downward spiral of state investment-- not only was there inadequate funding allocated to ensure essential programs would continue, but any dollars remaining in the fund were raided to balance the state budget. Connecticut residents should be able to trust that their State will guarantee and financially back upgrades to sewage treatment plants and related infrastructure. Residents and wildlife require good water quality in Long Island Sound and its tributary waterways; fully funding the Clean Water Fund is the first step in securing the remaining nitrogen reductions targeted by the LIS TMDL.


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