- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Bring down the barriers. Permit beach buggys to spin through the sandy resting grounds of the endangered piping plover, and be sure bulldozers bore through the arboreal habitat of the threatened Louisiana black bear. After all, according to an internal document uncovered by Audrey Hudson of The Washington Times, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) apparently believes that it's not a "ridiculous possibility" that the toxic sludge being dumped into the Potomac River by the Army Corps of Engineers is bad for the fish living therein.

Under the auspices of the EPA, the Corps of Engineers has been dumping up to 20 loads of toxic sludge each year into the Potomac since 1989 and has been scrambling to justify its release of the stygian discharge (some of it oozes into the habitat of the endangered short-nosed sturgeon) ever since the story surfaced a few years ago.

First, the coprs attempted to pass over the problem. Then, when Rob Gordon of the National Wilderness Institute produced photos of the poisoned plume, the Corps of Engineers proclaimed that it had the proper permit, despite the fact that it had expired in 1993 (a new one was issued last March). Subsequently, the Corps of Engineers released a study supposedly showing that the sludge wasn't such a serious problem. However, a peer review of that study revealed it to be as rotten as the floating evidence of dead fish left in the wake of the disgusting discharge.

Now this piece de resistance from the EPA's files. While there's some dispute about who wrote the memo (the EPA blames the Corps of Engineers), there's no doubt that it was part of yet another attempt to defend, or at least muddy the debate. According to the author of the document of page 1471 of the EPA's administrative record, "It's 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."

Of course, it's a preposterous possibility. But it's worth remembering that this sort of extraordinary science is nothing new when it comes to endangered species living in the Potomac. When a species of insect believed to be extinct was found near the construction site of the Wilson Bridge last August, the Interior Department decided that the creatures were simply extremely persistent. That startling claim allowed work to continue, whereas a simple sighting of something even slightly endangered out West is often enough to close entire areas.

The bottom line is that this is another case of executive exceptionalism at its worst. There's simply no scientific or statutory justification for the EPA to permit further sludge dumping into the Potomac. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has recognized this, and has properly called for a shutoff. She's right. It's time to turn off the taps on this gross abuse of power.

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