Eleven citizens groups in Tennessee are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reject the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s (TDEC) new water quality rules that weaken protection for Tennessee’s rivers, lakes and streams.

The citizens groups include the Tennessee Clean Water Network, Harpeth River Watershed Association, Nature Conservancy, Obed Watershed Community Association, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Save the Nolichucky, Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, Tennessee Environmental Council, and the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association.  Nashville attorney Elizabeth Murphy also signed the letter asking EPA to reject the proposed rules.

Under the Clean Water Act, states are required to review their Water Quality Criteria every three years to ensure their rules are meeting the newest challenges in protecting that state’s water resources. Tennessee completed its “triennial review” in late 2012 by issuing new water quality rules.

“Tennesseans have a right to unpolluted streams, rivers, and lakes. The state holds these waters in trust for the benefit of its citizens, and TDEC is supposed to protect and restore water quality. Instead, in 2012 Tennessee weakened the very rules that are intended to protect our waters from new or increased sources of pollution,” said Stephanie Matheny, attorney for the Tennessee Clean Water Network.

“The problem with these Water Quality Criteria revisions is they make it easier for TDEC to issue new pollutant discharge permits without considering the alternatives to discharging small amounts of toxic pollutants on our rivers, lakes and streams,” Matheny continued.

“At their extreme, these proposed rules could preclude a full review of a new discharge of mercury, dioxins and PCBs to waters with endangered species or that are a source of drinking water, an absurd result that is clearly contrary to the language and intent of the Clean Water Act,” Matheny added. “TDEC also adopted confusing new terms such as parameter, unavailable parameters, and response variables that even water quality experts have trouble understanding.”

Matheny notes that EPA’s Region 10 disapproved Idaho’s comparable revised Water Quality Criteria. She pointed out the EPA has not approved the new TDEC rules yet.  Nonetheless, TDEC has recently applied these rules to avoid full review of several controversial discharge permits including the recently-issued permit for U.S. Nitrogen and the proposed permits to allow the Brownsville Energy Authority to discharge toxic pollutants to the Hatchie River and the South Fork Forked Deer.

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