Effort to Clean Up the Androscoggin River Will Continue
NRCM News Release
The Natural Resources Council of Maine today expressed disappointment in yesterday’s court decision to dismiss, on administrative technicalities, NRCM’s lawsuit against International Paper. NRCM said that it would not give up on its efforts to compel International Paper to reduce its pollution of the Androscoggin River – which remains Maine’s most polluted major waterway.
NRCM further stated that technical experts have demonstrated that pollution from International Paper’s mill in Jay, Maine could be dramatically reduced through cost-effective investments that would reduce the mill’s operating costs and help ensure that the plant remains open and profitable.
“Although IP prevailed in court on a technicality, the court did not say the company has done enough to clean up the Androscoggin River,” said NRCM Executive Director Brownie Carson. “In fact, the Court has confirmed that International Paper has been operating its Maine mill under a permit that is more than 20 years old, and which was supposed to last simply one year when it was issued in 1985.”
As stated in the March 28, 2006 decision by U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, “NRCM was justified in filing a citizen suit under § 505 [of the Clean Water Act] on the ground that the federal and state agencies had failed and would continue to fail to ‘exercise their enforcement responsibilities.’” With this conclusion, Judge Woodcock dismissed IP’s claim that NRCM lacked standing for the purpose of filing the suit.
In his 37-page ruling, Woodcock ultimately sided with a narrow interpretation advanced by International Paper that the Court should not consider certain NRCM arguments because they were not sufficiently delineated in NRCM’s 60-day notice of intent to sue. NRCM and its legal team do not agree with the Court’s decision on this matter, and will keep its options open for a possible appeal.
“Judge Woodcock confirmed our position that International Paper has not had an effective pollution discharge permit since 1985, and that International Paper, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection did nothing to improve the permit requirements for 20 years,” said Carson.
“International Paper won this court case based on administrative technicalities, regulatory loopholes, and bureaucratic inaction,” said Carson. “We still need to clean up the Androscoggin River.”
In addition to confirming NRCM’s right to “standing,” the Court rejected IP’s argument that they could avoid paying significant penalties for violations of the Clean Water Act, funds that would be used to help pay for river clean-up.
Since NRCM filed its suit, the DEP issued a new permit for International Paper. DEP said that it needed to revise the permit because it concluded the prior limits were too lax.
“We filed our lawsuit to clean up the Androscoggin River. That remains our goal. Getting a new permit that guarantees improvements in water quality in the river is essential, and we will have a close eye on DEP’s efforts to issue a permit that achieves this purpose. But we will not give up on any avenues available to us, in the courtroom, Legislature, or before the Board of Environmental Protection, that we believe may be necessary to achieve what needs to be done – a cleaner Androscoggin River for the people of Maine,” said Carson.