Appeals court upholds exception to water quality standards
A federal appeals court says that the state of Montana and the U.S. government are within the bounds of the law in granting three dozen Montana wastewater treatment plants an exception to clean water standards.
The court’s decision this week partially overturns a district court opinion by finding the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could legally grant 36 municipal wastewater treatment plants a stay on pollution limits due to cost.
Guy Alsentzer is the executive director of the environmental group Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, which challenged the exception a few years ago.
“Y’know, they think it’s expensive. We don’t like that reality, and we believe the Clean Water Act demanded more and the ninth circuit, unfortunately, disagreed,” Alsentzer said.
The exception allows the plants to release more nitrogen and phosphorus into nearby streams than permitted under the Clean Water Act for up to 17 years. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution can create algal blooms that damage the natural habitat.
The Montana DEQ says the ruling “provides clarity that a variance can be a useful tool.”