- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

The Bush administration faces mounting political pressure to apply environmental protection laws to the elites who live inside the Beltway.
The pressure is coming from House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, along with other congressional Republicans and rural constituents who are criticizing what they consider the unfair enforcement of the Endangered Species Act by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Interior and Commerce departments.
"The EPA speaks out of both sides of the mouth," Mr. Delay told The Washington Times. "While zealously enforcing extremist environmental regulations against average Americans in the West, the EPA turns a blind eye to dumping pollution through a Washington, D.C., national park."
"Seemingly, the EPA only regulates on the whims of the day, not the law," Mr. DeLay said.
The lack of environmental enforcement within the nations capital has upset many groups concerned about what they perceive as the EPAs double standard on regulating pollution and clean water — especially the massive amounts of chemicals and impurities that are being dumped into the Potomac River.
"The EPA doesnt stop the practice because of political pressure brought by affluent Northwest Washington residents who dont want to be inconvenienced by a few dump trucks rumbling though their neighborhoods," said Rob Gordon, director of the National Wilderness Institute, a conservation watchdog group. "The sediment is laced with chemicals toxic to sturgeon and their eggs."
An EPA Water Protection Division official called the discharge "the most toxic discharge I have ever seen."
At issue is the action of the Army Corps of Engineers. The corps diverts water from the Potomac, treats it with chemicals to purify it for drinking, then sends the treated water to sedementation basins at the Dalecarlia Water Treatment Plant and the Georgetown Resevoir. The treated water is piped for use in Washington and parts of Virginia, while the sediment and chemicals that are toxic to fish remain in the basins, until periodically flushed back into the river.
Mr. Gordons conservation group, which represented Bracewell & Patterson, a prominent national-resource law firm based in Texas, has sued the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service to get the government "to protect the sturgeon by enforcing the Endangered Species Act in Washington as it does everywhere else."
"The suit is blowing the whistle by saying if you apply the law in one region of the country, you must apply it the same way in others," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican. "The Endangered Species Act can have devastating effects on local economies and in the past has not been applied consistently — something Westerners have long known."
"We want to see the Endangered Species Act enforced right here in Washington, where the law was passed," said Rep. George P. Radanovich, a California Republican who heads the Western States Caucus in the House.
He and others say the Army Corps of Engineers is piping millions of pounds of sediment through the C&O; Canal National Historic Park and flushing it into the Potomac River.
Rep. Wally Herger, California Republican, says the problem began during the Clinton administration. However, he says that the Bush administration has yet to address the issue because it has not put in place its own managers in numerous departments and agencies.
He charges that the Clinton administration failed to enforce environmental protections inside the District in order to appease the citys powerful, entrenched interests.
"While the Clinton administration and local politicians courted the special favor of an affluent area in Washington, D.C., the Endangered Species Act and the interests of an endangered species were subverted," Mr. Herger said.
"In the Klamath Basin [in California], over 1,200 family farmers could go bankrupt this year because of a decision to take all of their water for endangered fish," he said. "These same requirements were ignored when the EPA allowed toxic dumping to avoid a minor inconvenience for the wealthy residents of Washington."
Mr. Herger called it a "striking example of the hypocrisy and power politics of the extreme environmental movement and its influence on eastern politicians."
But it is not just legislators from Western states in Congress who are angry about the inconsistency.
Rep. John E. Peterson, a Republican from rural Pennsylvania, maintains that the law "is stringently enforced in rural America, where most wildlife species do pretty well, but not in urban areas, where the affluent support the act, so long as its applied elsewhere and doesnt inconvenience them."
"They have the political clout that rural America doesnt have, which is why it is getting rolled regularly," Mr. Peterson says.
That sentiment is echoed by many rural constituents — especially in the West.
On the open range in Bonanza, Ore., rancher Glenn Barrett struggles to make his voice heard over the wind that whistles past his cell phone. "We are at our wits end out here in the West, where the federal government has been enforcing the act," says Mr. Barrett. "Its hard for us to raise the money to fight the feds in court — the government, weve found, has deep pockets."
He says what disturbs him the most "is a huge double standard in applying the Endangered Species Act. The government shuts down our businesses out here if it decides any possible harm — not proven harm — that can come to an endangered species, but turns a blind eye in urban areas that have political influence."
Mr. Barrett claims he lost almost a half million dollars in revenue when in 1991 and 1992, the government shut off his ranchs irrigation to protect the shortnosed sucker fish. He ultimately won a court fight, but he says the government has shut off his irrigation again.
Mr. Gordon says one example of how the "Georgetown set" has used its privilege and clout to influence government at various levels is a 1998 letter from residents of Georgetown and other fashionable Northwest Washington neighborhoods who have banded together, calling themselves the "Coalition for Responsible Urban Disposal at Dalecarlia."
The letter urged Mayor-elect Anthony Williams not to adopt an environmental policy that could, "if strictly interpreted, force the Washington Aqueduct Authority, which processes our drinking water, to stop discharge of sediments back into the Potomac River."
"The results would be higher water rates for customers," the letter said. Also, trucks "would have to pass through residential neighborhoods" and cause diesel pollution and noise, "generally reducing the quality of living in our neighborhoods, and thus the value of homes."
A year later, however, a panel of biologists said their top goal was to eliminate sediment discharged into the Potomac River. "That hasnt happened," Mr. Gordon said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide