Calming the waters; Appeals court: City and EPA should talk.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals has pushed the battle over the Blackstone out of court and into the hands of a mediator after deciding not to hear further appeals regarding limits on phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the river. The decision means that Worcester officials will get what they have sought all along - the opportunity to sit down with the Environmental Protection Agency and work out a deal grounded in common sense.
Two major themes should inform those discussions.
First, both sides should examine the best available science on how to sustain the very real gains made to the river's health in recent years, and what can be done to further improve conditions from Worcester to Narragansett Bay. The city has maintained that the nutrient limits EPA included in its 2008 permit were based on "dubious science."
The city points to $180 million in upgrades since 2001 as evidence of ongoing efforts to improve the river's health.
Equally important should be the recognition that financial resources are limited. It may, in fact, be possible to reduce still further the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen coming from the Upper Blackstone regional wastewater treatment plant. But the cost would impose heavy burdens on sewer users in Worcester and surrounding communities that rely upon the plant. And there is no guarantee that such improvements would translate into a meaningful difference downstream, given that the Blackstone flows through more than a dozen communities, all of which may be contributing significant levels of nutrients and pollutants from other sources.
It's impossible to predict what will come of mediation, but the appeals court has done all involved a major favor by taking this matter out of the courts. A full and honest exchange, involving all parties and all their concerns, offers the best hope for a lasting agreement environmental authorities and ratepayers alike can live with.