Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic to Represent Coalition in Missouri Clean Water Case

Students and faculty in the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic (IEC) will represent the Missouri Coalition for the Environment in its effort to force Missouri to establish more protective water regulations. The coalition hopes to compel the state to move forward on a ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency four years ago, which rejected part of the state’s proposal for lowering the nitrogen and phosphorus levels in most lakes and reservoirs.

The state was supposed to submit new criteria within 90 days of the EPA’s ruling but has not. On behalf of the coalition, the IEC filed a notice of intent with the EPA and can file suit after 60 days. The lawsuit will contend that the EPA violated the Clean Water Act because it did not force Missouri regulators to establish new nutrient limits within a reasonable time frame. 

“In fairness to Missouri, they have addressed other Clean Water Act matters, including protecting more of the state’s waters,” said Elizabeth Hubertz, lecturer in law and attorney with the IEC. “But the EPA's ruling on nitrogen and phosphorus levels is an issue that really needs to be addressed and something that the state really should have gotten to by now.” 

At issue are the contaminants of nitrogen and phosphorus, which are commonly found in discharges from wastewater plants and in fertilizers that tend to run off of farm fields. In high concentrations, they pollute lakes, rivers, and streams, and have contributed to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has drafted recommendations and solicited comments, including a proposal it posted online in the fall, but has moved no further, in part because of concerns from agricultural interests.

“Many of Missouri’s waters are at risk from these pollutants, which affects citizens’ ability to use and enjoy these valuable resources,” said Peter Goode, IEC environmental engineer. “Our clinic students and faculty are working with our environmental partners to keep this issue at the forefront.”

The IEC provides pro bono legal and technical services to environmental and community organizations in Missouri and Illinois, while teaching law students to handle complex legal cases. The law students work on interdisciplinary teams with students from the schools of Engineering & Applied Science, Arts & Sciences, and Medicine, as well as the Brown School of Social Work and the Olin Business School.

Kathleen Nelson, January 2016