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RvK Appeals DEC Ruling on NYC Sewage Plant Permit


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On August 16, 2010 Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), joined by New York/New Jersey Baykeeper and Long Island Soundkeeper, filed an appeal in New York Supreme Court challenging a decision by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to issue final permits for NYC sewage treatment plants that fail to include enforceable timelines for reducing raw sewage discharges from the city’s fourteen sewage treatment plants. Every year, New York City’s 460 Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) outfalls dump about 27 billion gallons of raw, untreated sewage into local waterways, much of it from the CSOs associated with the city’s sewage treatment plants. Under the Clean Water Act, the city must develop a plan to reduce CSO pollution and comply with state water quality standards. Riverkeeper and NRDC intervened in the DEC’s permit process for these sewage plants and CSOs in 2003, arguing for an enforceable schedule under which the city would have to develop its plan.

In the ruling by Commissioner Grannis, the DEC refused to write enforceable schedules into the actual permits; instead, the agency is relying on the compliance schedules contained in an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) between DEC and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and merely referenced in the final discharge permits for the fourteen plants and their related CSOs. Riverkeeper is opposed to this decision for two key reasons. First, excluding the schedules from the permit makes it much more difficult for Riverkeeper to take legal action if the DEP fails to comply with the schedule for reducing CSO pollution. While it is undisputed that citizens and groups like Riverkeeper can file Clean Water Act citizen suits for permit violations, the law is much less clear when it comes to ACO agreements. Second, excluding the compliance schedules from the permits effectively cuts off public participation in the process. Under the current arrangement, DEC and DEP are free to negotiate changes to the ACO that could affect how quickly and completely the city addresses the CSO problem, all without any required public input. This goes against Riverkeeper’s strong belief that the environmental permitting process should be transparent and open to public participation.

In its petition for appeal, Riverkeeper is seeking a declaratory judgment from the state Supreme court that the DEC’s Ruling is contrary to the state law requirement that these permits must include, as enforceable terms of the permit, any compliance schedules necessary to ensure attainment of water quality standards. Riverkeeper and NRDC are represented in this appeal by the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace Law School.

Read a copy of the appeal.

More information on Riverkeeper’s work to reduce CSO pollution.

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