The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is sharing its until-now secret watch lists, chronicling serious or chronic air, water and environmental hazard violators (boiseweekly.com, News, "The EPA's Secret Watch List," Dec. 3, 2011).
According to the EPA, a facility has three strikes against it before it makes it to the watch list. Strike one: a violation. Strike two: multiple violations. Strike three: significant non-compliance.
"When a facility is in violation, we quickly put them in our database," said Lauris Davies, associate director for EPA's Office of Compliance and Enforcement for Region 10, which includes Idaho. "When that facility's violations add up to something significant, they fall into a tighter category called significant non-compliers. But then, there are certain facilities that we want to keep on our watch list."
Among the facilities on the recent list was the City of Caldwell. In particular, Caldwell is being watched as a possible violator of the Clean Water Act.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Gary Shoemaker, Caldwell's Water Department director, told Citydesk when asked about the list. "I'm not sure why we would be on that list."
But when Citydesk reviewed the EPA's public database for the City of Caldwell, we found unacceptably high levels of nitrogen and ammonia registered in Caldwell water between January and May.
"When I look at Caldwell's data, I would think they had an operational problem," said Justin Hayes, program director for the Idaho Conservation League. "They were truly exceeding their nitrogen and ammonia limits."
When Citydesk asked Davies if Caldwell should have been aware of its inclusion on the watch list, the EPA enforcer answered the question with a question.
"Should they know? That's a good question," said Davies. "The lists are public now. Citizens for some time have been looking for our watch lists, so we put the information out there for everyone to see."
Hayes said any and all public information is a good thing, but he's troubled with the content.
"I wish there was a zero-tolerance policy. You look at these lists and you start seeing patterns, and you begin scratching your head," said Hayes. "I think as soon as the EPA gets behind in its enforcement and somehow allows violations to continue to occur, it may make some facilities think, 'Oh well, we can keep violating.' That makes me pretty frustrated."
In November, Caldwell was joined on EPA's Clean Water Watch List by wastewater treatment facilities in Coeur d'Alene, Gooding and Idaho Falls. A separate Hazardous Waste Watch List included the Broadway Center Laundry in Boise, Commercial Fuel Recycling in Nampa, the Pocatello Simplot Plant, and Agrium in Soda Springs.
"I think it's really important that people know these lists are available," said Hayes. "There's no excuse for these violations."