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Northwest Environmental Advocates ❖ Northwest Environmental Defense Center
For Release: For Further Information:
September 6, 2001 Nina Bell, (NWEA): 503/295-0490
8:00 A.M. Mark Riskedahl (NEDC): 503 768-6673
Travis Williams, (WRK): 503/223-6418
TOXIC WASTE DISCHARGE PERMIT TAKEN TO COURT
Saying that the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) issuance of a discharge permit to the Oregon Metallurgical Corporation (Oremet) “turns the federal Clean Water Act on its head,” three environmental organizations are challenging the agency action in state court. The Oremet facility -- also known as Wah Chang -- is located in Albany, Oregon.
The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC), Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA), and Willamette Riverkeeper, alleges that DEQ violated federal law by permitting the company to discharge its wastes into Oak Creek, a tributary to the Calapooia River. The permit allows the company to violate state water quality standards the full width of Oak Creek for two miles. It also allows those violations to continue into the Calapooia River an additional 375 feet.
“DEQ continues to bend and twist legal requirements in an effort to shield Oremet from the cost of controlling its excessive pollution,” said Mark Riskedahl, Executive Director of NEDC. “There seems to be little point in the state’s establishing clean water standards when DEQ issues permits that ignore those standards so completely,” he added.
The Oremet discharge includes chromium, lead, nickel, zinc, chloride, titanium, pH, and temperature. This is the first permit DEQ has granted that allows such an extensive area downstream in which water quality standards are suspended since the state adopted a new rule for so-called “alternate mixing zones” in 1997.
“DEQ’s issuance of the Oremet permit turns the Clean Water Act on its head,” said Nina Bell, NWEA Executive Director. “Under DEQ’s approach, companies can pollute virtually without limit if the natural flow of water in a stream has been removed or reduced,” she added.
The change in the mixing zone rule was prompted by a 1991 lawsuit filed by NEDC that challenged a 13-mile mixing zone DEQ had granted the same facility. The new rule allows permit holders in limited circumstances to fill a waterbody with their discharge. Bell, a member of the committee that advised DEQ on the rule change, noted that “DEQ promised companies would have to develop extensive new information to pass the test. But, when it came time to issue the permit for Oremet, DEQ took the company’s old information and called it good.”
"It’s time that the DEQ issued permits that comply with the Clean Water Act, and protect public health and the integrity of the Willamette River ecosystem," said Travis Williams, Riverkeeper for Willamette Riverkeeper. "Today the kind of discharges that are being allowed by DEQ into rivers in the Willamette Basin are simply unacceptable and fall well short of our ability to protect our public waters.”
The lawsuit alleges that DEQ’s new permit allows Oremet to operate under less restrictive conditions than its old permit, contrary to law. In addition, the groups say the agency issued the permit on the basis of inadequate information.
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133 SW 2nd Ave., Portland, OR 97204-3526 (503) 295-0490 FAX 295-6634