WASHINGTON (AP) -- Three-fourths of the states are failing to address water pollution caused by runoff from farms and forests, ignoring a provision in the federal Clean Water Act, a leading conservation group charged Wednesday.
Alaska was among the 19 worst states in compliance, according to the National Wildlife Federation, which conducted a survey showing that 38 states have done little to address non-point pollution under the federal law.
''States have not stepped forward to systematically deal with polluted runoff and contaminated rain,'' the group said.
Michael Murray, the report's co-author, attributed the states' reluctance to ''a combination of political intimidation ... and bureaucratic inertia'' and said ''our lakes, streams and coasts are paying the price.''
The group evaluated compliance with a provision of the Clean Water Act aimed at protecting watersheds from pollution -- pesticides, excessive nutrients and other chemicals -- that come primarily from agriculture and forests as opposed to a specific smokestack or discharge pipe.
States are required to designate waterways impaired by such pollution, prioritize the severity of the problems and develop a plan to curtail the pollution. Murray said most states have done little beyond compiling lists.
A number of lawsuits have been filed challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to limit pollution from non-point sources, while other lawsuits claim the agency has not been aggressive enough to implement the law.
A federal judge in San Francisco last week upheld the EPA's authority to control pollution in California's Garcia River from agricultural and forest runoff, the Justice Department said Wednesday, calling it the first court decision ''to squarely address the issue.''
The lawsuit involving the Garcia River had been filed by The American Farm Bureau Federation and other agriculture and timber groups.
Last August, the EPA proposed a rule that would strengthen compliance, requiring states to step up development of plans for watershed protection so that all impaired waterways are safeguarded within 15 years.
The Wildlife Federation said the regulation, which has yet to be issued, will improve state compliance, but with its lengthy compliance schedule ''does not acknowledge the urgency in restoring polluted rives, lakes and estuaries.''
The proposed EPA rule has been criticized by farm groups and even the U.S. Agriculture Department. A senior USDA official last year suggested the EPA does not have authority to regulate agricultural runoff, a position later disavowed by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
Even so, Glickman has expressed concern about the EPA's lack of a clear estimate on how much compliance will cost farmers, landowners and the logging industry.
The rule would require certain pollution levels to be established for impaired waterways and it would be up to each state to determine how to meet the reductions, EPA Administrator Carol Browner told lawmakers at a hearing in February.
EPA has estimated that states so far have approved only a small fraction of the 40,000 runoff-control plans need to comply with the law, a reflection of the findings disclosed Wednesday by the National Wildlife Federation.
The conservation group said 19 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have largely ignored the law and another 19 states have demonstrated ''poor'' compliance.
Twelve states were found to meet ''minimum'' requirements: Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
States with the worst compliance were: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
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