Groups Challenge State of Oregon’s Water Pollution Permit for Hundreds of Industrial Sites


Lawsuit Seeks Stricter Limits on Toxic Pollution from Stormwater Runoff, Protect Imperiled Salmon

September 28, 2017 (Portland, OR)—A lawsuit filed by Columbia Riverkeeper and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC) seeks to reduce toxic water pollution by overturning the State of Oregon’s one-size-fits-all permit that regulates over 900 industrial sites across the state. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regulates pollution from thousands of pipes that discharge polluted runoff from industrial sites, including metal scrapyards, truck depots, and lumber yards. The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, asks a judge to require the State of Oregon comply with the Clean Water Act and impose stricter limits on industrial pollution.

“Everyone deserves to eat locally-caught fish without fear of toxic pollution,” stated Columbia Riverkeeper’s Executive Director, Brett VandenHeuvel. “DEQ missed a huge opportunity to keep thousands of pounds of toxic pollution out of our of rivers. Lax pollution limits violate the law and the agency’s commitment to protect public health and imperiled salmon.”

Under the Clean Water Act, no person may discharge a pollutant from a point source, such as a pipe, to a water of the United States without a permit. Every time it rains, stormwater runs across industrial sites, carrying cancer-causing pollutants like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) and heavy metals like mercury and copper to streams and rivers. According to the National Research Council, urban stormwater runoff is the leading cause of water pollution in the United States.[1]

In August, DEQ rejected Columbia Riverkeeper and NEDC’s calls for the agency to revise the permit. In addition to weak pollution limits, the groups also raised concerns about DEQ’s ability to protect water quality if companies are only required to submit pollution monitoring reports once a year. In contrast to Washington state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits, which require that industrial sites report how much pollution they release four times per year, Oregon opted for annual reporting.

“Oregon undermines the public’s right to understand the amounts and types pollution companies release to our local waters,” stated Jamie Saul, Clinical Professor and Staff Attorney for the Earthrise Law Center. “If a metal scrap yard is releasing toxic pollution at levels that grossly violate the law, a year could pass before Oregon regulators and the public find out. This is not what Congress had in mind when it passed the Clean Water Act.”

The Earthrise Law Center and the Law Office of Karl G. Anuta, P.C. represent Columbia Riverkeeper and NEDC in the lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court.


About the Clean Water Act: The objective of the Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972, “is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” The Clean Water Act requires facilities that discharge wastewater into rivers or lakes to have permits limiting pollution. The Clean Water Act also empowers public interest groups, like Columbia Riverkeeper and NEDC, to enforce those permits and protect our collective right to clean, safe rivers.


Columbia Riverkeeper works to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean.

NEDC is an independent non-profit organization working to protect the environment and natural resources of the Pacific Northwest.

Earthrise Law Center is the environmental legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School. Earthrise Law Center is a team of impassioned attorneys and staff working to achieve targeted environmental improvement while teaching the next generation of advocates to do the same.

[1] See Urban Stormwater Management in the United States, National Research Council (Oct. 15, 2008), available online at:

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