- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The state’s regulation of municipal stormwater discharges doesn’t violate the federal Clean Water Act, as environmental groups claimed in a lawsuit, the state’s highest court ruled on Tuesday.

The Court of Appeals split 4-3 in the decision, which upholds the Department of Environmental Conservation’s general permit for municipal separate storm sewer systems.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups contend the state’s rules are too lax, allowing polluted runoff to pour unabated into rivers, lakes and coastal waters from hundreds of municipalities.

The council will continue to push for a stronger general permit in the DEC’s upcoming renewal cycle for the current permit that was issued in 2010, said the council’s lawyer on the case, Larry Levine. He said the council also will seek a federal court-ordered deadline for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to modernize federal stormwater regulations.

“This decision means business as usual for New York waterways that are plagued by persistent runoff pollution from the Great Lakes to Long Island Sound,” Levine said. “If we want our beaches and waterways to be fishable and swimmable, our leaders must improve permitting requirements for municipal storm sewer systems in New York and nationwide.”

The permit challenged in the lawsuit applies to about 500 municipalities across the state outside New York City. It regulates storm sewer systems that are separate from wastewater collection systems. It requires municipalities to take steps to minimize pollution of water bodies; but the Natural Resources Defense Council said it falls short because it lacks clear, enforceable requirements and accountability.

Levine said stronger permit requirements would give communities incentive to invest in practices that reduce stormwater runoff, such as permeable pavement and increased green space.

“There’s a whole toolbox to get green infrastructure to become the new norm for new construction and retrofit existing development,” Levine said. “This permit is one of the most crucial things to drive that.”

The DEC press office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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