POCATELLO • A federal agency is facing scrutiny of its approval of Idaho’s water protection guidelines.
On Tuesday, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition filed a civil case against the Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. District Court in Pocatello. According to court documents, the environmental group is asking a federal judge to order the EPA to set aside its backing of Idaho’s anti-degradation implementation methods.
The guidelines list standards needed to keep pollution damage from mounting over time in Idaho’s bodies of water. The agency approved the policy in August 2011, but GYC says Idaho’s rule doesn’t do enough and violates the Clean Water Act.
“This rule is extremely important for Idaho. It affects everything from lakes to fisheries to drinking water” said Andrea Santarsiere, a legal associate for GYC. “The goal of the rule is supposed to protect Idaho’s highest-quality water.”
The group’s primary complaint is that the policy is too soft on upholding higher quality water standards for a certain classification of water. The rules allow degradation without public review of some water sources unless the use — not the quality — of the water becomes damaged.
Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality is in charge of enforcing the rules. As of Wednesday, DEQ officials were still going through GYC’s lawsuit.
“We obviously think we have a document that complies with the EPA and the Clean Water Act,” said Don Essig, DEQ’s water quality standards coordinator. “We’re going to continue using it until we’re told differently.”
This isn’t the first time the state’s anti-degradation policy has faced criticism from environmental groups.
It took the state a little more than a decade to approve an initial anti-degradation policy and another 15 years before an implementation method was adopted. During its inception, the policy became caught between industry advocates vying for fewer regulations and the need to meet federal regulations.
At one point, the EPA requested revisions to Idaho’s suggested policy, but went on to approve the document despite the state’s lack of changes in response.
The EPA declined to comment on the lawsuit.