Statement from Scott Faber, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs:
Scott Pruitt, and now the White House, have repeatedly lied about phosphorus standards for the Illinois River. In response to an EWG report, a spokesperson for the White House this morning said “the fact of the matter is Oklahoma has never had an enforced phosphorus standard until AG Pruitt successfully moved this issue…” Nothing could be further from the truth.
The real fact of the matter is that Oklahoma has had an enforceable phosphorus standard since 2003 and that Pruitt undercut that standard when he renegotiated an agreement with Arkansas in 2013. In 2003, Pruitt’s predecessor Drew Edmondson negotiated an historic agreement with Arkansas to reduce phosphorus levels to Oklahoma’s water quality standard. Later that year, the Environmental Protection Agency praised the agreement and affirmed Oklahoma’s water quality standard, creating a federally enforceable standard.
To help Arkansas comply with the standard, the 2003 agreement gradually phased in its requirements over a decade. Importantly, by June 2012, permits for phosphorus discharges from upstream wastewater treatment facilities in Arkansas were required to be stringent enough to meet Oklahoma’s legal limit. In fact, in 2009, the EPA denied a five-year permit to a northwest Arkansas facility because the facility did not ensure that its limits would be strict enough by 2012 to meet the Oklahoma standard. Referencing the 2003 agreement, the EPA denial letter stated that “the standards also provide that compliance schedules are to end as of June 30, 2012, and as of that date, all dischargers must comply with effluent limits designed to meet the [legal limit for phosphorus].”
Instead of enforcing those limits as attorney general in 2012, Pruitt stalled by negotiating a separate agreement in 2013, commissioning yet another study of Oklahoma’s water quality standards, and astonishingly, relinquishing Oklahoma’s enforcement rights for three years. What’s more, Pruitt’s 2013 agreement actually emboldened poultry polluters like Tyson and Simmons Foods to fight against a separate EPA effort to establish a pollution budget for the Illinois River Basin. To date, the EPA has not yet completed that effort.
As EWG has pointed out time and time again, Pruitt’s 2013 agreement was a setback, not an environmental achievement for Oklahoma. Giving Pruitt credit for establishing Oklahoma’s first enforceable phosphorus standard is a telling bold-faced lie.