EPA Settlement: Army Corps vs Dam Conservationists

In what's being called a "huge day for clean water" by conservationists, the Army Corps has agreed to address oil pollution seeping from dams into rivers.

"With the dams coming into compliance with the Clean Water Act, hopefully we will see an end to toxic spills and chronic seepage of pollutants that have been harming our community,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper’s Executive Director. Columbia Riverkeeper is the agency who filed the lawsuit a year ago.

The original suit described dozens of oil spills and chronic oil leaks.... For example, in 2012, the Army Corps reported discharging over 1,500 gallons of PCB-laden transformer oil at the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. According to the EPA, PCBs cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. The oil from the Ice Harbor spill contained PCBs at levels 14,000,000% greater than state and federal chronic water quality standards. — Columbia Riverkeeper
Criteria of the new settlement in Case 2:13-md-02494-LRS include:
  1. EPA oversight: Within one year, the Army Corps must apply to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Clean Water Act permits for eight of the largest dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers (Currently, there is little to no oversight)
  2. Pollution limits: The Clean Water Act permits will limit the amount of oil and toxic pollution discharged by the dams. The permits will require the Army Corps to install "best available technology" to control spills
  3. Pollution monitoring: For the first time the Army Corps must monitor the amount of pollution being discharged into the largest rivers in the Pacific Northwest
  4. Environmentally friendly oil: The Army Corps must switch from using toxic petroleum products as lubricants in dams to using vegetable other biodegradable oils if the Army Corps determines switching is feasible
No one outside the corps knows how much pollution is flushed into waterways every day; the agency doesn’t have to track it. Before Monday's settlement, no one with sufficient authority compelled them to do so, says the Associated Press in the Seattle Times.

This is the right verdict. And likely a precedent. Dam managers, beware.