Waterkeeper Groups Sue EPA over SDWA Failures

Various Waterkeeper groups, covering both the east and west coast, filed suit in the US District Court of Southern New York over EPA’s failure to meet its statutory obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to regulate harmful contaminants in drinking water, leading to public exposure that is higher than it would be if EPA was doing its proper job.  The suit challenges delays by EPA at many points through the regulatory cycle included in the 1996 amendments to the SDWA.  This includes not meeting prescribed timelines for the Contaminant Candidate List, Six Year Review of existing regulations, and regulatory determinations.  The suit takes particular aim at EPA’s failure to enact new regulations when it has made determinations under the Six Year Review that regulatory changes are needed.  Specific contaminants mentioned in the case include tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, chlorite, Cryptosporidium, haloacetic acids, heterotrophic bacteria, Giardia lamblia, Legionella, total trihalomethanes, and viruses.  For chromium, the suit charges that EPA’s decision under earlier Six Year Reviews to defer any change to the standard was arbitrary and capricious.  The Waterkeepers ask the court to set specific dates for EPA to take the actions required by the SDWA and revise regulations for the list of contaminants.

Many groups in the water sector, including industry organizations as well as environmental groups, have criticized EPA’s implementation of the regulatory process under the SDWA.  Even ASDWA has recommended EPA streamline the process.  In an era of tight budgets and political challenges, it is likely that EPA will continue to fall behind in meeting regulation development deadlines and lawsuits will continue to be filed to push EPA through the process.