Cities Unite in Suit to Overturn L.A. River Trash Law

Staff Reporter

A coalition of 22 L.A. County cities is seeking to overturn Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring them to keep litter and trash out of the Los Angeles River.

The cities, whose storm drains empty into the river, charge that the regulation, adopted by the EPA in March, would burden them with expensive litter-prevention measures while exposing them to lawsuits should even a scrap of paper find its way into the waterway.

Their lawsuit, filed in federal court on June 28, follows similar litigation filed by the city of Los Angeles in May. L.A. is being required to protect Ballona Creek as well.

"If you read the literal language, if there is one bubble gum wrapper coming out of a municipal storm drain we are in violation," said Richard Montevideo, an attorney representing the Coalition for Practical Regulation, whose membership includes cities in the San Gabriel Valley and southern L.A. County.

The litter regulation is one of dozens the agency is expected to adopt over the next several years, targeting pollutants such as chemicals that harm local waterways. It sets a zero-tolerance limit for trash, which ultimately makes its way from the river into ocean. The EPA hasn't set a time frame for meeting the law, but it is expected to adopt a 12-year period.

Regulators estimate it will cost $330 million to implement using the priciest technology, such as devices that catch trash in storm drains, and less if cities rely more on street sweeping, education and other cheaper methods. The coalition estimates the cost at $2.4 billion.

The EPA defends the regulation as reasonable. It will allow cities to gradually reduce the trash entering the waterway from their jurisdiction, a spokesman said.

"It's not as dire as the cities are making it out to be," said EPA spokesman Mark Merchant. "We have been working all along with the cities to make sure their concerns are addressed. We feel this is a premature jump to litigation."

The 22 smaller cities are seeking a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the regulation and a permanent injunction overturning it.

Los Angeles wants the regulation rewritten so that the city would be deemed to meet it as long as it installs litter control devices that reduce the problem.

David Beckman, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, notes that an EPA controlled by appointees of President Bush approved the regulation. "That says as much as anything the extremity of (the cities') position," he said.

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