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Suit Slams EPA for Allowing Potlatch Discharge

by Michael R. Wickline, Lewiston Tribune - August 10, 1999

Three conservation groups filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Monday, claiming salmon and steelhead runs are being harmed by the Potlatch Corp. pulp mill's wastewater discharge at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers.

In their lawsuit, the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United and Lands Council in Spokane contend the EPA is failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

They are seeking an order requiring the EPA to consult the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the impact of Potlatch's effluent discharges on threatened and endangered salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

Potlatch's wastewater discharge is regulated by a Clean Water Act permit issued by the EPA. The permit has been extended indefinitely by the EPA, although it actually expired in 1997, according to the conservation groups.

A year ago, the conservation groups filed a notice of intent to file suit against the EPA over the renewal of Potlatch's permit to discharge effluent at the confluence.

"The technology exists for Potlatch to decrease, if not eliminate, the need to use the Snake River as an industrial sewer,'' said Mark Solomon, a spokes-man for The Lands Council.

"If it wanted to, Potlatch could be helping salmon and steelhead, the Lewiston community and their workers. The company just has to be willing to truly invest in our region's future."

A spokesman for the EPA's regional office said EPA officials hadn't seen a copy of the lawsuit as of Monday afternoon.

Last August, an EPA official said the agency was in the process of drafting a new permit for Potlatch's wastewater discharge and had begun consultations with NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Frank Carroll, a spokesman for Potlatch Corp. in Lewiston, said company officials haven't seen a copy of the lawsuit either.

"(But) the effect of our warm water on the river cannot be measured and it is not harmful to anyone or anything whether the dams are in place or not,'' he said.

Potlatch Corp. has 60 cubic feet per second of wastewater flowing into the 30,000 cubic feet per second of water in the river, Carroll said.

"We are very concerned about the communities we live in and operate in. These are our families and our lives. We have been leaders in environmentally responsible manufacturing processes."

Carroll said Potlatch has spent $500 million during the past several years to bring its technology into line with EPA recommendations before the federal agency mandated them.

Four months ago, several environmental groups filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and claimed operation of the lower Snake River dams violates the Clean Water Act.

They contend the dams cause the reservoirs to reach temperatures and dissolved gas levels that exceed standards set by Washington state and approved by the EPA.

Corps officials, however, say warm water is a problem, but not one that should be blamed entirely on the lower Snake River dams.

They have attempted to remedy part of the problem by releasing cold water from Dworshak Reservoir near Orofino during the warmest summer months.

Michael R. Wickline
Suit Slams EPA for Allowing Potlatch Discharge
Lewiston Tribune - August 10, 1999

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