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Fairfax County Joins Virginia In Suing EPA Over Runoff

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Fairfax disputes the method the EPA uses to measure runoff into waterways like Accotink Creek in Springfield.
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Fairfax disputes the method the EPA uses to measure runoff into waterways like Accotink Creek in Springfield.

Politics is making for strange bedfellows in Fairfax County, where the local government is joining Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in suing the Environmental Protection Agency. At issue is the way the EPA measures pollution from storm runoff — which was the primary factor cited when the agency decided to withhold $1.2 million in grant money for Chesapeake Bay cleanup earlier this month.

Not everybody is onboard.

"Attacking the regulatory action as illegal or inappropriate, to me, is kind of overkill," says Virginia State Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon).

Traditionally, federal regulators have looked at the amount of sediment released into Chesapeake Bay when assessing levels of runoff. A new rule, however, uses the flow of water instead — a much more difficult approach for the county, because Fairfax lacks adequate ways to control storm runoff.

"Part of the dispute between the county and EPA is whether EPA even has the authority to declare the amount of water as the actual pollutant," says Del. David Bulova (D), who represents Fairfax. He says the lawsuit could set an important precedent.

Regardless of whether or not the EPA has the authority to set that kind of rule, some are uncomfortable with the politics. Del. Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church) is among them. She believes Fairfax County's lawsuit against the EPA sends the wrong message and undercuts the local government's reputation as an environmental leader. 

"Simply the headline that the county is suing the EPA and they are partnering with Cuccinelli is very damaging to that reputation," says Kory.

But Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland disagrees, because the EPA's demands are unrealistic and could have drastic consequences, he says.

"We should be joining with the Commonwealth of Virginia in challenging the EPA's authority on a rule that could bankrupt local jurisdictions," says Hylund.

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Michael Pope is also a reporter with the Connection Newspapers who provides special coverage of Northern Virginia for WAMU 88.5. His story for the Connection can be found at MountVernonGazette.com.

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