- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Stanching the stenchy flow of hypocrisy that oozes out of the Beltway is never simple. So, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deserves some credit for finally taking a hint, and possibly a whiff, of the stagnant flow of sludge discharged into the Potomac River, and starting the process of reducing its flow.
Specifically, as reported yesterday by Audrey Hudson of The Washington Times, the EPA has proposed tight limits on the 10 million pounds of toxic discharges that the Army Corps of Engineers was dumping into the Potomac annually. The EPA's newly proposed rules would reduce that flow by an estimated 99 percent and mandate studies on the discharges' effects on the river and the endangered species therein.
The decision represents a fairly abrupt change in course for the EPA, which, since 1994, had been allowing the Corps to continue the dumping on an expired permit. As recently as October, the EPA had considered giving the Corps a renewed permit with no limit on the levels of pollutants that could be discharged, even though the dumping violated several statues, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). (One known resident of the Potomac, the shortnose sturgeon, is on the list of endangered species list.)
Don Welch, EPA Region 3 administrator, claimed that public comments were responsible for the changed rules. However, Rob Gordon, president of the National Wilderness Institute, may have had something to do with it, too, since his organization had sued the government to stop the dumping. Sen. George Allen of Virginia and Rep. George Radanovich of California, both Republicans, probably helped tighten the permit also, since they introduced legislation designed to force the EPA to comply with the law shortly before this congressional session ended.
They almost had to, since the Corps had tried one dodge after another and stooped to silly excuses to justify its actions. First, it claimed that the discharges were not harmful to the environment, even though the sight and smell left observers gagging. Then, it claimed that the discharges were not that harmful that they only contained a single metal, aluminum. When a peer-reviewed study ordered by Mr. Radanovich revealed that the discharges actually contained high levels of lead, nickel, mercury and arsenic, among other metals, the Corps claimed that the toxic discharges were actually good for the river's fish because, by causing them to evade the area, they would be less likely to be caught by fishermen.
What infuriated Mr. Radanovich and others of his mind was not simply the environmental damage that was being done, but rather the hypocrisy that it represented. As Mr. Radanovich repeatedly pointed out, the Endangered Species Act has been used to slow down and even block developments in Western states, but until now, it was essentially being ignored on the Potomac, because compliance would inconvenience the residents of tony Georgetown neighborhoods, who didn't want to deal with dump trucks hauling the sludge away.
That will almost certainly change now, although as Mr. Gordon pointed out, "The new draft permit is a good first step, but the devil will be in the details." Still, it represents an important first step. With the EPA's decision, shortnose sturgeon will certainly be breathing a bit easier, as should fair-minded residents of the Beltway.

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