- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

With Congress still on Easter recess, all's quiet along the Potomac. Of course, that might also have something to do with the tons of crude-oil like sludge that the Army Corps of Engineers recently dumped into the river. That stygian discharge was perfectly legal, even though, as reported by Audrey Hudson of The Washington Times, it sent beavers and ducks scurrying out of its way. It occurred despite the fact that a recent scientific review found that such dumping should be stopped immediately and even though the sludge was dumped into the habitat of the endangered shortnose sturgeon.
The sturgeon are almost certainly becoming even more endangered as a result of the Army Corps' still-legal actions, since few aquatic creatures could survive such a swilly swim. Even if they don't get caught in the actual dumps, the sturgeon still have to traverse the area to arrive at their probable spawning grounds around Little Falls. Inadvertent sturgeon catches by fishermen have consistently confirmed their presence in the river.
The Corps' fishy contention that few aquatic creatures are harmed by its actions is based partially on a federal water-quality report it requested while attempting to have its dumping permit renewed. However, when it was subjected to peer review at the request of California Rep. George Radanovich, the reviewing scientists found that elements of the report were so inconsistent with established standards that "it is not possible to reach definitive conclusions about the impacts of discharges." One of the report's most egregious oversights was its failure to analyze the effects of either chlorine or chloroamine, even though both are potential fish toxins, and both are present in the sludge discharges. In assessing the potential toxicity of pollutants, the report's authors decided to minimize the occurrences of false-positive tests, an approach which is exactly the opposite of normal procedure in risk-assessment studies. The report's authors also dodged the question of whether or not shortnose sturgeon are even in the Potomac. So rank was the report's science that its reviewers concluded that "based on our experience dealing with several hundred reviews, this study appears to rank at the lower end of the studies we have viewed so far."
There's an even larger problem than sludge sinking the spawning hopes of endangered sturgeon, and science that smells as bad as the sludge whose dumping it is used to justify. It's that by permitting (literally), this toxic discharge, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is effectively abandoning its mission to protect the lives of endangered species. That's probably due to the high political costs of stopping the sludge dumping. After all, dump trucks could easily carry the stinking sediment away from the endangered species habitat. However, doing so would require moving the effluent through an affluent Georgetown neighborhood, whose politically active residents are highly averse to such a move. So, barring an unexpected permit refusal by the EPA, all will remain quiet along the Potomac, especially whenever the Army Corps legally dumps another load of sludge into the river.

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