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Clean Water Report Card for California

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Clean Water Report Card for California

Half of California's Major Industrial Facilities Lack Current Water Pollution Permits

Half of major industrial water polluters in California are operating with expired pollution permits, according to an analysis of clean water enforcement data by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Friends of the Earth (FOE). Facilities operating under expired permits include most of the state’s oil refineries and a number of power plants that are dumping a toxic soup of chemicals into the ocean, bays and rivers, including dioxin, lead, mercury, cyanide, arsenic and PCBs.

Analysis of all U.S. Clean Water Act National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for major industrial facilities in California shows that 49 percent of the permits (26 of 53) are expired as of June 2000 and 43 percent (23 of 53) have been expired for at least six months. (Table 1)

The offenders are not small, obscure operations whose paperwork slipped through the cracks, but some of the state’s dirtiest and most high-profile facilities, who have been allowed to continue polluting with expired permits for years. Tosco Corp.’s refinery in Wilmington has been discharging water pollution under an expired permit for 27 months, Chevron’s refinery in Richmond for 34 months and and Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant for almost 60 months.

Los Angeles County, under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, has 10 expired industrial permits, followed by Contra Costa County, under both the San Francisco and Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Boards, with four. Eleven of the facilities with expired permits are discharging directly into the Pacific Ocean. Seven are polluting bays or harbors and three are discharging into the state’s rivers.

When water and sewage treatment plants operated by local or regional governments are also considered, 22 percent (65 of 227) of the major water pollution permits in California have been expired since at least the end of 1999. Although there are far more permits in the state for water treatment facilities than for industrial facilities, about one-fourth of the public facilities have expired permits, compared to well over 40 percent of the industrial sites.

California has more expired water pollution permits than all but five other states. Nationwide, about 25 percent of major industrial and public facilities have expired water pollution permits, but many large industrial states have significantly lower rates of expired permits than California, including New York (four percent), Pennsylvania (11 percent) and Illinois (17 percent). Of the ten states with a comparable regulatory caseload (more than 200 facilities), only Ohio, with 35 percent of permits expired, and Louisiana, with 47 percent, have higher rates than California. (Table 2)

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