Environmentalists ask EPA to override Delaware River Basin Commission

A coalition of leading environmental organizations submitted a 17-page legal petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging the federal government to override the regional Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and “promptly initiate rulemaking” necessary to protect aquatic life in the Delaware Estuary.

The Delaware River watershed is a 12,800-square-mile area that spans four states and provides drinking water to more than 15 million people.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, PennFuture, Clean Air Council, Environment New Jersey, and Penn Environment say the federally endangered Atlantic Sturgeon is among the aquatic life in the Delaware Estuary that are on the brink of extinction.

According to the petition, “the DRBC is failing to discharge its duty to protect the health of the Delaware River Estuary” and the four states

The DRBC is a United States government agency created in 1961 by an interstate compact, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, between four states, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.

The environmentalists’ petition comes on the heels of a strongly worded letter delivered on April 19 to those four states and the DRBC challenging a recent draft technical report for “cherry-picking science“ in a way that will minimize and undermine the pursuit of appropriate water protection standards, particularly dissolved oxygen.

With the DRBC and the four watershed states failing to protect the ecosystem, the environmental groups want the EPA to exercise its authority pursuant to the Clean Water Act Section 303(c)(4)(B) to set water quality standard regulations that will do the job.

According to the petition, the DRBC and the watershed states have failed to recognize that the Delaware Estuary, from Trenton to the top of the Bay, is being used for maintenance and propagation of resident fish and other aquatic life; as well as for spawning and nursery habitat for anadromous fish; and have similarly failed to take action to institute water quality legal standards essential for protecting critical species such as the federally endangered Atlantic Sturgeon of the River.

According to the organizations, the DRBC and the four watershed states have been repeatedly and formally urged to recognize these aquatic life uses, and to upgrade associated water quality protections, particularly dissolved oxygen standards.

These requests, dating back more than a decade, have failed to spark needed protective action other than additional scientific research which the organizations say is unneeded given the robust scientific data already available on the record.

The members of the DBRC are the governors of the four member states and Major General Thomas J. Tickner, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Atlantic Division.

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