Guest view: New rule on nutrient pollution, a ‘race to the bottom’ | Chroniclers

December 16, 2021

Montana Economy

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Today, nutrient pollution affects 35% of Montana’s river miles and 22% of lakes, according to Montana state’s own records. Unfortunately, despite the increasing degradation of our waterways from pollution and with increasing demand for water resources every day, Governor Gianforte and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality are removing basic protections that protect them. healthy streams.

A law passed and signed by Gianforte in the last legislative session will put Montana in the unenviable position of being the first and only state in the Union to reverse nutrient protection for our precious and finite water resources. Tragically, the same waterway protection standards that Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is trying to repeal are the same standards that scientific experts, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have urged states to adopt to better protect local water quality.

Over the past six months, during the stakeholder rule-making process, regulated pollutant interests have worked with DEQ to rescind strong clean water protections under a new rule. Despite DEQ’s insistence that this process was aimed at garnering feedback from knowledgeable participants, it’s time for the public to know what the process fundamentally represents: a partisan effort to relax pollution controls for the biggest polluters. state and remove existing scientific measures to assess damage or health of watercourses. This winter, the public will see the fruits of vested interests in a rule that proposes the passage of an unproven, ambiguous and open process focused on relaxing pollution controls.

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What has been missing is a meaningful discussion of the known risks of unprecedented reductions in DEQ pollution control, which will allow increased nutrient pollution in our water. Nutrient pollution, in the form of excess nitrogen and phosphorus, comes from septic tanks, wastewater treatment facilities, laundry detergents, fertilizers, manure, and stormwater runoff. The excess nutrients perpetuate ongoing algal blooms that negatively impact the health of waterways and aquatic life. It also puts at risk Montana’s second-largest sector of the economy, Montana’s outdoor recreation industry, and the health of the waterways that attract visitors. Finally, by removing the standards that determine whether a body of water is polluted, the health of thousands of Montanais’ drinking water sources becomes all the more uncertain. The elimination of proactive, science-based pollution controls is a critical failure to protect the local water quality in our streams, rivers and lakes, as well as human health.

The new rule prompts a “race to the bottom”, where point polluters (treatment plants, refineries, mines and other direct discharges into water) will not be held responsible for the pollution they contribute to the course of water. local water. While removing scientific protections, DEQ also pretended to control the known negative impacts on water quality of sprawling growth or irresponsible use of fertilizers, omissions that can only be attributed to a lack of political will.

Rolling back nutrient pollution has been a brinkling action game, with clean water advocates and even the EPA – which is legally bound to review and approve the proposed rule – s ‘officially opposing the pending rule because it ignores the basic reality that it is diametrically at odds with science, our right to a “clean and healthy environment”, the demands of the Clean Water Act and our values ​​of clean water. On the other hand, DEQ and special interest polluters have united against common sense and science-based pollution standards.

Montana was a national leader when it adopted digital nutrition standards in 2014; now we’re on the verge of being the first state in the country to roll back the pollution controls that protect our waterways and to educate when, where and how to restore waterways to health. In the face of climate change, warming water, development pressure, variable snowpack and persistent drought, Montana should invest in proven strategies that build local resilience and protect cold, clean water, without threatening it with more pollution. An opportunity for public comment on the dismantling of the pollution standard opens on December 24 on the DEQ website.