- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

House Republican lawmakers are demanding that the Bush administration revoke a permit allowing the dumping of sludge in the Potomac River.
In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman, a dozen lawmakers expressed their concerns that the federal government allows hundreds of thousands of tons of sludge, which coats and kills wildlife, to be discharged through a national park and into the river.
The House Resources Committee has set a May 15 hearing to review the dumps, first disclosed by The Washington Times in July of last year. Mrs. Whitman and Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton have been asked to appear before the committee.
"I find it absurd that one would actually have to ask the EPA to stop permitting toxic-sludge discharges into an American Heritage River in a national park, but that is where we have found ourselves," said Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican. Mr. Radanovich is taking the lead on the issue and initiated the letter.
The sludge is created when the Army Corps of Engineers uses alum to separate sediment from drinking water taken from the Potomac and pushes the treated sediment back into the river in heavier concentrations, which resembles crude oil.
The letter asked Mrs. Whitman to withdraw the permit reissued last month and to examine a peer-review study of the government's findings allowing the discharges which exceed 30,000 miligrams of solids per liter to take place. By comparison, most states are allowed to discharge only 10 to 90 miligrams per liter.
"While both your agency and the Army Corps of Engineers maintain that the discharges are within legal, scientific standards, we possess a peer review, authored by a well-credentialed and prestigious panel of scientists, that strongly indicates otherwise," the letter said.
The letter is also signed by Republican Reps. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, John T. Doolittle of California, Greg Walden of Oregon, Tom Osborne of Nebraska, Richard W. Pombo of California, Wally Herger of California, C.L. "Butch" Otter of Idaho, John E. Peterson of Pennsylvania, Ken Calvert of California, Mike Simpson of Idaho and Doc Hastings of Washington.
Local lawmakers have remained silent on the issue.
The peer review said the study used by the EPA to justify the sludge discharges was "sufficiently inconsistent with established scientific and engineering standards" and recommended that the operators of the aqueduct be urged to terminate discharges and construct a treatment facility.
"It is disturbing that the federal agency charged with protecting our environment would issue a permit for what can only be considered egregious violations of both the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act," Mr. Radanovich said.
"Not only are these toxic discharges in blatant violation of the Clean Water Act, they are also spewed directly into the primary spawning ground of an endangered species," Mr. Radanovich said.
Some of the discharges occur near the spawning areas of the short-nose sturgeon, an endangered species.
The last sighting of the sturgeon was recorded in 1996. However, two sturgeon were caught March 8 and verified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, two weeks before the aqueduct discharged the sludge from all its basins.
The discharges are conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers from the Dalecarlia water-treatment plant.
The fish were caught during their migration period off Potomac Creek, 57 miles upstream from the mouth of the Potomac River.
William T. Hogarth, assistant administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, told a congressional panel last fall that "there are some indicatons that there are a few fish in the general vicinity" but that the fish would be driven away by the dumps.
"We stopped what we thought were the activies that were impacting sturgeon. It has worked, it seems, everywhere except in the Potomac River," Mr. Hogarth said.

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