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PA Group Calls For Higher Penalties For Clean Water Act Violators

Catalina Jaramillo
The Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River at the Delaware Water Gap.

An environmental group is criticizing Pennsylvania for its high numbers of Clean Water Act violations.

It says at least part of the fix should come from the state level.

report by PennEnvironment ranks Pennsylvania second in violations nationwide--though it didn't account for states' numbers of waterways and industrial sites. Pennsylvania has among the most waterways in the country.

The group's deputy director, Adam Garber, said average annual penalties for Clean Water Act violators fell from $45,000 to $20,000 between 2014 and 2017.

The act bans facilities from sending pollutants into waterways unless they have a permit to do so. And even then, they have to stay under strict limits.

But Garber said sometimes, companies seem to ignore the law.

"Violating the Clean Water Act has become the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania, and so we need to significantly increase the consequences for polluting into our waterways," he said.

The federal government largely controls permit violation penalties--and the Trump administration has repeatedly moved to roll back environmental regulations.

The state's key role is identifying and reporting violators.

Garber said that has to happen more quickly. But he noted, it's an increasingly difficult task.

"The DEP has been under-resourced for years in Pennsylvania, which impacts their ability to enforce things like the Clean Water Act and make sure they have the resources to hold polluters accountable," he said.

A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said they're reviewing PennEnvironment's findings.