The state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal environmental agency will work together to carry out the strategies outlined in both the agreement and a memorandum of understanding reached between the two agencies as part of the settlement, said William Gerlach, assistant council for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The lawsuit was one of three court actions filed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware by a coalition of environmental organizations, said Maya van Rossum, of the Delaware River Keeper, a local environmental group that is a party in all three lawsuits. The Pennsylvania settlement was approved by Judge Marvin Katz. A settlement has not yet been reached in Delaware and New Jersey.
The lawsuits alleged that the state governments had failed to identify portions of streams and rivers that are being damaged or are at risk of being damaged by pollution.
Under the Clean Water Act, states are required to evaluate all their waterways. Those streams and rivers, or portions of them, that fail to meet federal water-quality standards are to be designated ``water quality limited'' segments. Then, the states are supposed to set limits on pollution for these segments with the aim of cleaning them up.
While each of the states has done some of the assessments, none has developed a list of water-quality-limited segments or set pollution limits.
If the states fail to comply with certain mandates of the federal law, then the EPA is required to step in and do the work, May said. The settlement requires that the EPA follow through with actions that the lawsuit alleged hadn't been done in 20 years.
As part of the agreement, the most severely polluted waterways must be listed publicly and subsequently restored; a long-term plan must be developed to insure water-quality standards; and the EPA must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service before making decisions affecting the waters of the Commonwealth.
Also, the state has agreed to assess the water quality of all of Pennsylvania's unassessed waterways, Gerlach said. Approximately one half of the state's streams and rivers have not been assessed. The cost of implementing that portion of the agreement will be between $6 million and $22 million, he said.
The settlement may affect the outcome of similar lawsuits that have been filled across the country, said May, who was assisted in the litigation by Widener law students. More important, May continued, is that the improvement of the state's waterways will have a direct effect on the water quality of states such as Maryland and Delaware, whose own waterways are downstream from those in Pennsylvania.