CNS – Water pollution cops, construction companies and local officials are still sorting out the meaning of a Superior Court judge’s ruling earlier this month that froze enforcement of clean water laws, and may freeze major construction projects as well, it was reported. The judge’s order has prompted a little-known agency, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, to stop writing up violators who pollute storm drains, rivers or the ocean waters in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The agency says it is also blocked from approving new construction projects that require stormwater permits until regulations are rewritten and reviewed, a process that could take months, the Daily Breeze reported.
“We cannot inspect facilities. We cannot prosecute persons who are in gross violation of a permit. We cannot enforce. We can’t do anything, because it is such a broad order,” said Francine Diamond, the water board’s chairperson, to the newspaper. But a lawyer representing the construction companies and inland cities that sued the water board accuses it of overreacting, and said the officials “went nuclear” in a “complete intentional misinterpretation of the judge’s orders.” On July 2, Orange County Judge Thierry Patrick Colaw failed to consider the economic impacts of tough new anti-water pollution laws that the water board passed in 2004.
The rules ban everything from cigaret butts to dog waste from being allowed to flow into storm drains, and placed cities in charge of enforcing the rules. The rules were favored by cities like Long Beach and Santa Monica, where the gunk washes up. But they were challenged in court by inland cities like Carson, Gardena and Lawndale, which say they do not have the money to prevent such litter and debris from flowing off their streets.
But in an order that environmentalists have since sued to overturn, the judge ordered the water board to “cease, desist and suspend” all actions related to the enforcement of stormwater-related permits and policies. Richard Montevideo, the attorney representing inland cities and the construction industry, said the water board is overreacting and is only banned from enforcing rules about the total amount of trash entering rivers, storms drains and the ocean in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Montevideo accused the water board of deliberately taking an overly- broad reading of the judge’s order to make its impact greater than intended.
“How many construction jobs are going to be on hold because people can’t get these permits,” he asked the Daily Breeze.
Heal The Bay, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Santa Monica Baykeeper are also unhappy, and have filed an appeal to have the entire decision overturned at a new trial.
“In a shocking disregard for existing federal Clean Water Act precedents, the judge ruled that economic considerations and the ease of meeting water quality standards for municipalities should be determining criteria in the planning process,” said Heal The Bay president Mark Gold.
“The judge’s order has completely paralyzed the regional water board and crippled it from carrying out its most-important duties—safeguarding public health,” he said in a statement.