MCE Sues EPA to Protect Missouri Lakes & Human Health
On December 3, 2019, Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not protecting Missouri lakes for recreation and drinking water use, and therefore not protecting human health. The EPA approved Governor Parson’s weak “clean water” rule for nutrient pollution following a sharp rebuke of a similar plan just a few years prior. MCE argues that Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, without justification, removed pollution impacts on human health in violation of the Clean Water Act.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson and state lawmakers have a history of supporting industrial agricultural interests over the protection of Missouri’s water resources and public health. MCE refuses to be a spectator as clean water protections are gutted because we do not want Missouri to end up in a situation like Des Moines (Iowa) or Toledo (Ohio), where literally thousands of lives have been disrupted and millions spent trying to deliver clean drinking water to people due to excessive nutrient pollution.
The need for measurable nutrient pollution standards is more than a decade in the making. What’s new is that Governor Parson and President Trump have decided to support standards that are not protective of human health. Be sure to look at our timeline below to get a sense of how long MCE has engaged on this issue.
Learn more by reading the lawsuit and press release and check out the questions below to learn more about nutrient pollution and why MCE is suing, and scroll down for visuals on the basics of nutrient pollution and a timeline of events leading up to the lawsuit.
** UPDATE: On April 15, 2020, the District Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on motions to intervene by the State of Missouri and several state water agencies from Missouri, California, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MCE'S NUTRIENT LAWSUIT
- “Nutrients” like nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for healthy plants. But, like anything else in life, it is possible to have way too much of a good thing—especially in sensitive environments like our lakes.
- Large quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus can enter our waterways from animal waste, fertilizer runoff, and sewage treatment plant discharges.
- Nutrient-rich water triggers massive algae growth in our waters. If you’ve seen ponds or lakes that look chunky, green, and stagnant, then you’ve seen nutrient pollution.
- This rapid algae bloom can take over lakes and rapidly deplete oxygen levels in the water. Without oxygen, all other aquatic life is choked out.
- Some types of algae contain toxins that can poison pets and make people sick. Three dogs died on the same day in Wilmington, NC this summer after swimming in a pond that was polluted by toxic algae.
- Waters that would be teeming with life are reduced to “Dead Zones,” not only in our Missouri lakes, but also compounded over the entire Mississippi River Basin to become a Dead Zone the size of Massachusetts.
- The same nutrient pollution that runs off into our lakes can also accumulate in private well water/drinking water supplies and cause particular harm to infants (nitrates and Blue Baby syndrome).
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put its stamp of approval on DNR standards that do not contain measurable standards for the actual causes of nutrient pollution — nitrogen and phosphorus.
- DNR’s lake nutrient standards have criteria for chlorophyll-a, something that shows up in response to nutrient pollution. When they are present in our lakes in excessive amounts, chlorophyll-a is what makes our lakes appear green and murky.
- By the time we are reacting to chlorophyll-a in our lakes, it is already too late to prevent impairment.
- DNR set their standards for lakes based on what is necessary to protect aquatic life, and not on what is necessary to protect recreation or drinking water.
- In the last few years, DNR changed its mission statement to explicitly include business and agricultural industry interests — the largest contributor to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
- Around the same time, the Clean Water Commission (the body that approves DNR’s rulemakings) changed from having mandatory representation from the general public to being entirely composed of pro-industry representatives.
- MCE is suing because these standards are ineffective at reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and do not protect human health.
- In 2011, EPA denied this set of standards because they were not based on sound scientific rationale and they failed to demonstrate that they would actually be protective of aquatic life and recreation. [LINK 1, PG. 27-28]
- Under a new administration, EPA reversed its 2011 decision and approved substantially the same set of standards in 2018.
- DNR’s lake nutrient criteria set a bad precedent for streams and rivers, neither of which currently have standards.
- MCE has been working on water quality standards in Missouri for the last 20 years, and DNR keeps putting forward the same, inadequate nutrient pollution standards.
- “Progress” does not equal regurgitating the same almost-10-year-old rejected standards.
- The existing standards will not keep our lakes healthy nor will they prevent our lakes from becoming damaged or “impaired” beyond repair by nutrient pollution.
- These standards will just register damage and impairment after the fact, not prevent pollution from devastating our lakes in the first place.
- DNR’s incremental progress on lake nutrient criteria set a dangerous precedent for streams and rivers, which currently have no standards whatsoever.
- Missouri needs to set measurable (numeric) standards for nitrogen and phosphorus.
- Once that is in place, we need clear monitoring, enforcement, and implementation of those standards.
- DNR’s existing standards on our lakes do not protect for recreation or drinking water.
- If you your favorite lake looks green and murky, report it immediately and do not put yourself at risk by swimming, fishing, or otherwise contacting the water.
- Be careful to not expose your pets to toxic harmful algal blooms.
- We need to be doing a lot more, not less, to protect the health of our lakes.
- DNR and EPA have engaged in incremental, ineffective progress in safeguarding the health of our lakes.
- In lieu of strong standards that protect our lakes from irreversible damage, DNR’s lake nutrient criteria are set up to register impairment after the damage has already been done.