Trenton — New Jersey’s latest stab at water quality standards does not pass federal muster because it leaves bald eagle, peregrine falcon, freshwater mussels and other aquatic life vulnerable to the effects of mercury, the pesticide DDT and the toxic effects of PCB’s, according to formal comments filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The state has been on notice of the need for numeric chemical limits to protect wildlife since 1996 but has once again failed to address the issue in its proposed new Surface Water Quality Standards.
Even extremely low levels of these persistent pollutants in state waters have devastating impacts on fish and wildlife as they bio-magnify and accumulate up the food chain. As mandated by the federal Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act, the state is required to assure that its water quality standards are protective of all federally protected species and their habitat.
The latest salvo comes from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in a July 23, 2007 letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The letter contends that –
- The “existing numeric State of New Jersey Quality Standards remain unprotective for mercury and DDT”;
- For “wildlife protection, attainment of New Jersey’s numeric PCB standard is stalled due to implementation issues that need clear and decisive resolution…”; and
- “The USEPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and the State continue to be in noncompliance with the Service’s  Biological Opinion and may be vulnerable to legal challenges.”
“New Jersey is again proposing new water quality standards that ignore impacts on wildlife —how lame is that?” asked New Jersey DEP Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, “For more than a decade, the state DEP has ignored federal law but the feds have yet to do more than write nasty letters.”
Today, PEER sent a letter calling on USEPA to enforce the Clean Water act in New Jersey by either adopting federal standards to protect wildlife or leveraging federal funding to induce recalcitrant state officials to do so.
“In New Jersey, it is really the petrochemical industry and polluters – not the DEP – who set the agenda for water quality standards,” Wolfe added. “It shows how low New Jersey has sunk when even the Bush administration righteously takes us to task for lack of water pollution controls.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.