- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

The EPA blamed the Army Corps of Engineers yesterday for a court document suggesting that sludge dumped into the Potomac River helps fish, and the Interior Department wants the discharges stopped.

The document, reported yesterday by The Washington Times, was included in the Environmental Protection Agency's administrative record as part of an ongoing lawsuit to stop the sludge discharges along the river.

Two EPA spokesmen told The Times in telephone interviews yesterday that the memo came from the Washington Aqueduct, a division of the Corps, which is responsible for the dumping, a practice allowed by the EPA.

"We are confident that this is not a letter written by someone at EPA," said one of the spokesmen, who referred further questions to Tom Jacobus, director of the Washington Aqueduct.

Mr. Jacobus could not be reached for comment.

The document instructs officials to focus less on the concerns of fishermen who say the sludge dumping is killing fish and more on the ability of the fish to complete their spawn without interference from the discharge.

"It is not in my view a ridiculous possibility that our discharge actually protects the fish in that they are not inclined to bite (and get eaten by humans), but they go ahead with their upstream movement and egg laying. It's the science that will determine that based on the condition of our discharge," the document said.

The National Wilderness Institute is suing the EPA to stop the discharges, citing violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The document is Page 1,471 of the administrative record that EPA offered during the court process beginning in 2000. The 1998 document is clearly stamped "EPA."

The document is a review of a letter with suggested edits regarding Corps activity. If the document was authored by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is regulated by EPA, "that is even more problematic," said National Wilderness Institute Director Rob Gordon.

"What is the Corps doing offering advice on letters going out from the agency that regulates it? Does the EPA allow big chemical companies to review letters going out regarding their activities?"

An EPA spokesperson said it is not unusual to give a draft to "various stakeholders involved in the process."

Under an expired permit, the EPA has allowed the Corps to conduct as many as 20 yearly dumpings of sludge containing sediment and metals. Some of the discharges have as much as 30,000 milligrams of suspended solids per liter, and one discharge occurs near a spawning habitat for the endangered short-nose sturgeon.

A draft permit is under consideration to reduce the discharges by 85 percent.

The discharges run through the C&O Canal National Historic Park, and Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said she wants the practice to stop.

In a letter to the EPA released yesterday, Mrs. Norton also questioned the science used to allow any discharge to continue.

"While the Department of the Interior supports the EPA's interim proposal to reduce sediments entering the aqueduct by a total of 85 percent, the department believes that the sediment discharges should ultimately be eliminated," the letter said.

"The department also has concerns respecting the adequacy of the science underlying EPA's draft NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit."

Testifying before the House Resources Committee yesterday, Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA deputy assistant administrator for water, said the EPA did not support the position that sludge is helpful to fish.

Mr. Jacobus sat quietly behind Mr. Grumbles.

"I would just like to say that is absolutely untrue, that is not the case at all," Mr. Grumbles said. "The basic point is that EPA does not believe toxic sludge is good for fish."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Grumbles disputed the document and said, "We don't even know if it was an EPA employee who said something like that."

The EPA court documents identify retired EPA engineer William Colley as the "assumed" author. Mr. Colley told The Washington Times he did not write the memo and identified an EPA colleague as the author.

EPA officials insist that none of their employees had anything to do with the memo.

The fish was listed as endangered during the 1970s but was not taken into consideration when the decisions were being made to allow dumping until last year after reports first appeared in The Washington Times.

Mr. Grumbles said he does not know when a new permit will be issued.

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