Prior to the ruling, the pollution entering rivers through Army Corps dams was known only to the corps itself. Requests from the Environmental Protection Agency for information on oil discharges and spills were denied, with the Corps stating in letters to state agencies that the EPA did not have authority to regulate them.
This legal settlement disproves that claim.
The consolidated lawsuit began when Columbia Riverkeeper, a conservation group, accused the Corps of violating the Clean Water Act with unmonitored oil discharges from the eight hydroelectric dams it oversees. These dams use turbines whose shafts and hubs are filled with oil and lubricants that leak from drainage sumps and the transformers that control the water flow.
Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA can regulate pollution entering a dam, but the Corps refused to file for a pollution permit.
“There have been several large, high-profile spills in the last decade that made it harder for them to ignore this issue of oil on the river,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.
“Under the letter of the law,” said environmental law professor Melissa Powers, “they have been engaged in unpermitted discharge for years. They should have long ago said, ‘This is how much we’re discharging. Here are the environmental impacts.’”
Not only is the Corps now accountable to the EPA, it is also required to monitor the day-to-day pollution exiting its dam.