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August 31, 2006
Late breaking news:
Click here for details.
Articles in this Issue:
San Joaquin River Gets a New Lease on Life - Sections dried for over 50 years to see flows again
California Adopts Network of Marine Protected Areas - First on shores of continental U.S.
E2 Southern California Activities - Members support AB 32
Attention E2 Members with Fluent Spanish Language Skills - Hispanic outreach opportunity
Capitol Insights - NRDC Advocacy Center's monthly newsletter
Container Fee's Impact on Port Business Would be Minimal - Study finds California ports would suffer little diversion
Court Strikes BLM's Oil and Gas Leases in Utah - Sales made without proper consideration of impacts
NRDC Shows Nine States How to Drive Beyond Oil - Road trip highlights hybrid SUV and ethanol sedan
Record Number of Beach Closings in 2005 - NRDC issues annual report and announces dirtiest beaches
Calendar of Events - E2 events in California, New York and New England

San Joaquin River Gets a New Lease on Life
Imagine a river mighty enough to support steamboat travel from San Francisco to Fresno, with a productive and diverse ecosystem that supported millions of migratory birds and one of the largest salmon populations on the Pacific Coast - and the southernmost North America.

That was the San Joaquin, California's second-longest river and the vital southern artery to the Bay-Delta estuary. It changed dramatically in the late 1940s when Friant Dam, located a few miles northeast of Fresno, began diverting so much water that the river literally died. Flows that once sustained remarkable biodiversity were captured and diverted to irrigation canals that serve a million acres of farmland on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. Downstream of the dam, 60 miles of the river were dried up, the salmon runs were extinguished, and for the past half century the "flow" of the San Joaquin River as it enters the Delta has consisted largely of polluted agricultural runoff.

In one of the biggest environmental victories in California history, NRDC and 13 other environmental and fishing groups that comprise "the NRDC Coalition" have negotiated a settlement which, over the next several years, will transform the San Joaquin back into a living river, restoring flows to the Delta, improving water quality and bringing back the river's native salmon populations. Final approval by the federal government and the U.S. District Court is expected in early September.

The San Joaquin River, California's second-longest, runs westward from the Sierra Nevada to the San Francisco Bay-Delta. Pictured is the course of the riverbed, of which some 60 total miles have been dry since operation of Friant Dam began.
Impact of Diversions

The United States Bureau of Reclamation dammed the San Joaquin as part of the massive Central Valley Project (CVP), an attempt to save Valley farmers from economic ruin at the end of the Great Depression. The river, which springs from the high Sierras is one of the main sources of fresh water in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. Since becoming fully operational in 1948, the Friant Division of the CVP has diverted over 90 percent of the San Joaquin's water into two huge canals, the Madera Canal and the Friant-Kern Canal, which deliver irrigation water to farmers along the valley's east side from Madera to Bakersfield. This valuable water supply is heavily subsidized by federal taxpayers through long-term federal water contracts.

Friant Dam helped create the nation's richest agricultural region. But drying up the San Joaquin River and destroying its fisheries has adversely impacted much of the rest of the state. Severe water quality impairments in the lower San Joaquin River and Delta are among the problems Friant Dam has caused for downstream areas, including farmers in the Delta who struggle to sustain San Joaquin County's own $1 billion-per-year agriculture industry. Delta farmers who have historically relied on water in the lower San Joaquin River for irrigation must contend with elevated salinity levels that can cause crop damage. Farmers and cities in San Joaquin County have also seen cutbacks in their water supplies from the Bureau of Reclamation's New Melones Reservoir (on the Stanislaus River) because the Bureau uses that facility - instead of Friant Dam releases - to release "dilution flows" into the lower San Joaquin to avoid violations of Delta water quality standards.

The Delta is not merely a region of fertile soil for farmers. It is the largest estuary on the west coast of North America, with global ecological significance. And it is the source of drinking water for 23 million Californians from the Bay Area to San Diego. The chronic water quality problems caused by massive diversions at Friant Dam degrade the Delta environment and impact people throughout the state, including Bay Area water districts that have been forced to invest millions of dollars in elaborate water blending and exchange programs to maintain drinking water quality.

The desiccation of the San Joaquin River's salmon runs also dealt a heavy blow to California's commercial fishing industry. Recognizing the importance of the San Joaquin fishery, the California Department of Fish & Game mounted heroic efforts to save it in the late 1940's. They constructed underwater fences to trap the salmon as they migrated upstream, and then drove them in tank trucks around the dry stretches in the river, enabling thousands of adult salmon to reach holding pools at the base of Friant Dam and eventually complete their life cycles in the 20-mile spawning reach below the dam. But efforts to persuade the Bureau of Reclamation to release enough water to sustain salmon were unsuccessful and by 1950, the rescue effort was ended. The prolific spring run was completely abolished from the San Joaquin basin, and the smaller fall run was relegated to remnant populations on downstream tributaries (the Merced, Tuolomne, and Stanislaus Rivers). Each year, at a location 150 miles downstream of Friant Dam, the Department of Fish & Game erects a temporary barrier that forces fall run salmon to ascend the Merced River instead of attempting in vain to swim further upstream on the San Joaquin.

Another effect of drying up the river has been significant costs to municipalities and farmers who must take extraordinary measures to treat wastewater and runoff in order to meet water quality objectives on the lower San Joaquin River. Cities like Turlock, Modesto, Manteca, Newman and Stockton have been forced to spend tens of millions of dollars to manage their wastewater because the San Joaquin has so little clean water that it cannot assimilate or dilute even highly treated wastewater. Millions of dollars have been spent on the dissolved oxygen impairment in the Stockton Ship Channel, a problem that could be solved with increased flows in the river.

Ironically, the lack of flow in the San Joaquin River also contributes to flooding problems. Degraded sections of the river have lost the capacity to carry high flows, leaving farmland and residents along the river at risk for major flooding. Because federal flood control funding is allocated based on a cost-benefit formula that considers property values along with the potential for ecosystem improvements, agricultural lands and low-income communities like Firebaugh near the de-watered San Joaquin River have been unable to qualify.

Benefits of Restoration

Just as the de-watering of the San Joaquin contributed to some of California's most severe water problems, restoration of the river can help solve these problems. Restoring continuous flow from the Sierra to the Delta will bring benefits not only to the river's riparian and aquatic species and ecosystems, but also to the drinking water supply for millions of people, to downstream farmers and communities, and to the commercial and recreational fishing industries, among others.

The state and federal governments have spent billions trying to improve water quality and stabilize failing ecosystems in the Delta, the hub of California's massive state and federal water projects. Water quality and fisheries improvements from a restored San Joaquin River will have significant economic benefits for the state and the millions of people whose lives and livelihoods depend on clean and reliable water supplies from the Delta. Along the lower San Joaquin River, where water districts, municipalities, and farmers face the prospect of spending tens of millions of dollars each year to address impairments for salt, boron, and low dissolved oxygen, restored flow in the San Joaquin River means major cost reductions.

One of the biggest economic benefits is water-related recreation, which is big business in California. In a 2002 survey by the California Department of Parks and Recreation (see California Department of Water Resources, 2005, Volume 2, page 24-1), 84.1 percent of respondents regarded outdoor recreation areas and facilities as important or very important to them and their families. Viewing scenery and wildlife, swimming, fishing, motorized and non-motorized boating were among the top activities that respondents had participated in. A recent analysis by NRDC's expert economist, Dr. Michael Hanneman of U.C. Berkeley, concluded that restoring the San Joaquin River will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits - more than enough to offset any adverse economic impacts of restoration. Dr. Hanneman also conducted a "contingent valuation" survey which showed that Californians are willing to pay up to $1.7 billion to restore the San Joaquin River, far more than the total expected cost of the new restoration program.

Additional benefits include better flood protection for communities and farms adjacent to the river. While 60 miles of the San Joaquin are dry most of the time, flood releases are required one out of three years from Friant Dam, and in some years such as 1997, 1998, 2005 and 2006, the volumes of these releases were large enough to overwhelm parts of the degraded river channel and aging levee system. Restoring the channel and in some places setting back and improving the levees to allow for natural river functions, including the capacity to carry higher flows for out-migrating juvenile salmon, will naturally provide greater flood-carrying capacity. And by releasing water into the river, Friant Dam itself will have more flood retention capacity. For landowners and communities along the river, restoration will provide flood management improvements which, as explained earlier, would likely not otherwise be available to the region.

Finally, the restoration settlement will bring greater certainty to San Joaquin Valley water contractors who have been operating without a clear process to renew their water contracts since 1988, when the NRDC filed suit with the Bureau of Reclamation. In the course of this 18-year litigation, two different sets of federal renewal contracts were declared invalid by the courts, and throughout this period farmers were unable to tell their financial lenders with certainty how much water would be delivered in future years in light of the pending litigation. The settlement of NRDC, et al. v. Rodgers, et al. lifts the burden of uncertainty, clarifies how much water will be needed for restoration, and allows farmers and their lenders to plan ahead for their financing needs and operations.

The Final Chapter in an 18-Year Legal Struggle

The basis of the new settlement is NRDC's lawsuit against the Bureau over its operation of the federally-owned Friant Dam and its proposed 40-year renewal of water supply contracts for the Friant Water Users Authority member irrigation districts. The lawsuit claimed that the Bureau was in violation of California Fish and Game Code which requires owners of dams to release sufficient water to keep in good condition any fish that may exist below the dam.

Over the course of 18 years, NRDC won virtually every major ruling and appeal (including a denial of review by the United States Supreme Court). These critical rulings set the stage for a February 14, 2006 trial to determine the "remedy" for the legal violations - i.e., what flows and other measures would be required to restore the river and its historic fisheries. As this high-stakes trial approached, the case drew the attention of Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman George Radanovich, who facilitated the beginning of a nine-month negotiation process that culminated in a settlement agreement among the parties on June 30, 2006. Lawyers in NRDC's Western Water Project expect final approval by the Department of Justice to occur in early September, and a joint motion for court approval - at which time the settlement documents will become public - to be filed a few days thereafter.

While the details of the settlement agreement were still subject to a confidentiality order at the time of this writing, we can disclose that the settlement includes a specific schedule of water releases from Friant Dam, a restoration timetable, identification of physical improvements in and around the river channel, and some level of funding for these improvements. In addition to the funding provided in the settlement itself, Proposition 84 (see below) would provide $100 million from the state of California to help implement the NRDC settlement.

E2's Role

Because of its value to a healthy environment and healthy businesses - as well as healthy employees - clean water has always been an area of focus for E2. In July 2003, E2's newsletter featured an article on NRDC's work to reform CVP water contracts, including the problems with San Joaquin flows and the fact that the federal government was committing to deliver more water than was physically available. It also described how some farms produce crops worth less than the water they consume, while other farmers earned more by selling their subsidized water to cities than by farming.

During our annual advocacy trip to Sacramento in March 2004, E2 discussed the issue of water contract renewals with assembly members and senators from districts where agriculture is big business. In meetings with administration officials we asked that the state continue to investigate whether renewing old contracts would constitute a give-away of California's precious water resources, maintain funding for a study on what it would take to restore the San Joaquin River and block increased Delta pumping in order to maintain drinking water quality standards. We also reached out later that year to Senator Dianne Feinstein, expressing our concerns with the CVP's water contracts.

How E2 Can Help Support the Settlement

While NRDC's landmark settlement agreement will soon be approved by all parties and the court, there is still much work to do in order to ensure that it is successful. Here are some of the ways E2 can play an important role in ensuring that the settlement succeeds and the broad benefits of restoration are realized:
  • Help NRDC enact narrowly-tailored federal authorizing legislation: in the weeks ahead, it is very likely that the principal opponents of restoration - a small but politically powerful group of irrigators on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley - will attempt to materially modify the authorizing legislation for NRDC's settlement in order to undermine restoration and advance their own political agenda, potentially even trying to use this bill to create exceptions the Endangered Species Act. NRDC is very focused on preventing this, and may need your help. Specifically, E2 members may be called on to contact or meet with members of Congress to stress the importance of restoring the river according to the current settlement in order to avoid the increase in costs associated with water treatment, insurance, diminished Delta crop quality and lost recreation opportunities that the status quo would perpetuate.

  • Help Pass Prop. 84, the Clean Water, Parks and Coastal Protection Bond: Ensuring adequate funding to carry out the channel improvements and other measures called for in the settlement is critical to keeping San Joaquin River restoration moving forward. Prop. 84 provides $100 million for this specific purpose. For information on how you can support the Yes on Prop. 84 campaign, please contact NRDC's California Advocacy Director Ann Notthoff.

  • Help Defeat Prop. 90: While the passage of Prop. 84 would help San Joaquin River restoration succeed, the passage of Prop. 90 (the so-called eminent domain "reform" initiative) would deter river restoration. For information on why Prop. 90's expansive re-definition of "regulatory takings" and overreaching compensation mechanisms would undermine not only San Joaquin River restoration but also virtually all of NRDC's advocacy in California, please contact Jared Huffman in the Western Water Program.
  • Summary

    In the past, witnesses recounted salmon runs in the San Joaquin River so dense that you could almost "walk across the river" on the backs of the fish, and people near the present site of Friant Dam were literally kept awake at night by the noise of thrashing salmon. We may not be able to fully recapture that time, but after 18 years of hard work, California is poised to restore and reclaim the San Joaquin, one of its most valuable resources. Bringing this dead river back to life will clearly rank as one of the greatest restoration success stories, rivaling that of the Everglades and Mono Lake. Moreover, it is hard to imagine any restoration effort that will produce such broad and meaningful benefits - including benefits to our state's fish and wildlife, to commercial and recreational fisherman, to communities along the river who will receive greater flood protection, and to the downstream farmers, cities, and millions of people who depend on cleaner and more reliable flows reaching the Bay-Delta. After being known for so long as one of the most desecrated bodies of water in America, the San Joaquin River can now look forward to becoming one of America's best comeback stories.

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    California Adopts Network of Marine Protected Areas
    In a historic decision that will fundamentally alter the stewardship of California's coastal resources, the state Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously on August 15 to adopt the first significant network of marine protected areas (MPAs) on the California coast under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Altogether, the Commission's decision places a total of 18 percent of state ocean waters off California's central coast under some type of protection. Eight percent of the area from Half Moon Bay to Point Conception will be committed to fully protected marine reserves (up from a current 1 percent), and the rest will allow limited types of fishing. According to Karen Garrison of NRDC's Oceans program, "The network is not as strong as we would like, but the Commission has taken a path-breaking step toward keeping our ocean ecosystems healthy and creating a statewide network of wildlife havens underwater, like our revered system of parks and refuges on land."

    The decision represents the culmination of a seven-year process, which started in 1999 when Governor Davis enacted the MLPA, mandating the creation of a network of MPAs along California's coast. However, it wasn't until Governor Schwarzenegger lent his support to an inclusive and open process and a public-private funding partnership that real progress began. The Commission's vote follows two years of intensive deliberation by a wide range of interests under the guidance of a Blue Ribbon Task Force, a governor-appointed group of policy experts that includes E2 member Meg Caldwell. Under Task Force oversight, stakeholders developed several alternative plans, one of which, Package 2R, drew support from conservationists, sport fishermen, scientists, divers, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other tourist businesses. Package 2R, which NRDC staff helped develop and E2 supported, places 13 percent of coastal waters under full protection vs. the 8 percent the Fish and Game ultimately approved as fully protected MPAs.

    In the weeks leading up to the hearing, over 270 E2 members wrote to the Fish and Game Commission and Governor Schwarzenegger in support of Package 2R. We effectively argued that it integrated economic growth with environmental revitalization by placing almost 20 percent of the central coast's waters under protection, leaving more than 80 percent open to fishing. We advocated Package 2R as the preferred proposal because it would protect not only the species and habitats of California's central coast, but also the strength of its tourism, fishing and local business industries.

    Thanks in large part to E2's letter, Senator Abel Maldonado (R, 15th District, Central Coast, and the featured speaker at E2's September 2005 EcoSalon in San Francisco) sent a letter to the Fish and Game Commission on the eve of their big MLPA vote endorsing the package recommended by the Gov's Blue Ribbon Task Force, which was very similar to Package 2R. Senator Maldonado is a well known legislative leader who represents 80 percent of the central coast region, and his support was pivotal in the adoption of the new policy.

    The MPA package must pass regulatory and environmental review before being finalized next February. The Governor and legislature deserve credit for providing the funding needed to implement the new network and continue the planning process for other regions. Karen Garrison and Kate Wing of NRDC's Oceans Program, and NRDC California Advocacy Director Ann Notthoff, were instrumental in building a broad alliance of interests in support of a strong conservation outcome. E2 looks forward to continuing to lend its support to the implementation of a strong national network of Marine Protected Areas and better ocean management.

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    E2 Southern California Activities
    Appearing left to right: David Rosenstein, E2 Member; Dayna Bochco, friend of E2; Adrian Martinez, Air Project Attorney, NRDC.
    The Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) has been the primary focus of E2 Southern California's advocacy this month. This landmark legislation, which passed the Legislature on August 31 and now goes to the Governor's desk, will not only reduce global warming pollution in California back to 1990 levels by 2020, but will also send the market signal needed to make investments in clean technologies, ultimately establishing California as the leader in the world-wide Cleantech market and enabling the state to compete in the 21st century carbon-conscious global marketplace.

    From July 24 through August 25, E2 Southern California members worked to create broader support for AB 32. When it was first introduced, AB 32 had three co-authors in the Assembly and one in the Senate. It now has 42 in the Assembly and 15 in the Senate. Building upon the increasing momentum behind AB 32, E2 Southern California Members David Groves, David Rosenstein, Jon Slangerup, Kathleen and Stephen Unger, and E2 friend, Dayna Bochco, organized letters of support from Southern California businesses, placed phone calls into key legislative and executive offices, and attended district office meetings with senior staffers for State Senator Murray as well as Assembly Members Chavez, Negrete-McLeod, Calderon, and Bermudez. Kathleen and Stephen Unger initiated a call between E2 Climate Team members and Assemblyman Richman to address his questions on the bill. Special thanks to Chapter Leaders Lee Stein and Tim Sexton, who requested these meetings on behalf of E2.

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    Attention E2 Members with Fluent Spanish Language Skills
    E2 is currently working with NRDC's Communications staff to identify members with fluent Spanish language ability to participate as featured E2 spokespeople on various Hispanic media outlets. Please contact Danielle Valentino at (310) 434-2337 or dvalentino@nrdc.org, or Hamlet Paoletti at (310) 434-2317 or hpaoletti@nrdc.org, if you are interested.

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    NRDC News
    Capitol Insights
    NRDC's Advocacy Center publishes a monthly newsletter, Capitol Insights. Since the last issue of Insights, Congress has gone on summer recess. In addition to a wrap-up of Congress' actions in the last several weeks before they recessed, this edition of Insights takes a look at a few issues that Congress neglected this summer, despite their growing urgency. E2 members can view this newsletter at: .

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    Container Fee's Impact on Port Business Would be Minimal
    A new report, Cargo on the Move Through California: Evaluating Container Fee Impacts on Port Choice, found that a $30 container fee at the Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland ports would have minimal to no impact on business and the California economy. For almost two years, state and regional leaders have discussed a container fee as a viable funding source for much-needed infrastructure enhancements, security improvements, and strategies to reduce air pollution at California ports and truck and train corridors. Opponents say the $30 fee, collected on each container that enters the ports, will cause shippers to divert their business to ports outside the state. The report's findings, however, estimate that a container fee at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports would result in ship diversions of a maximum of 1.5 percent and that the $30 container fee would raise total ship voyage costs by only 1.5-2.5 percent.

    While goods movement is vital to the California economy, it exacts a costly health and safety toll on communities from the coast to the valleys. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the largest fixed source of diesel pollution in the South Coast region. The California Air Resources Board estimates 2,400 Californians die prematurely each year due to pollution from the transportation of goods. A new July poll released by the Public Policy Institute of California, found that 71% of all adults surveyed were willing to support tougher air pollution standards for ships, trucks and trains that transport goods, even if it resulted in higher costs to business. In 2005, Senator Alan Lowenthal introduced a bill, SB 927 (formerly SB 760), that would implement a $30 container fee. During our 2006 Sacramento trip, E2 discussed the ports issue with Senator Lowenthal in-depth and supports SB 927 because it utilizes a "beneficiary pays" principle and provides funding for programs to mitigate pollution and protect the health of Californians. SB 927 passed the California Assembly on August 30 with a vote of 42-35. It passed the Senate with a vote of 22 to 15. It now awaits signature from the Governor.

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    Court Strikes BLM's Oil and Gas Leases in Utah
    On August 3, a federal district court ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated federal environmental laws when it sold oil and gas leases on 16 parcels of wilderness-quality lands in southern Utah. In the ruling, the court specifically rejected BLM's practice to "lease now, think later," stating that federal law required "that BLM postpone leasing in areas where the agency had significant new information about wilderness values that had not been adequately accounted for." The lawsuit, which NRDC filed along with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, challenged the first oil and gas lease sale following a controversial settlement in 2003 between the state of Utah and the Interior Department that allegedly gave BLM the right to sell oil and gas leases in the western United States. Utah holds these lease sales quarterly, and since the controversial 2003 decision, nearly every sale has included land that the agency itself acknowledges as wilderness quality. As a result of the court's ruling, every lease sale over the past three years in Utah is now thrown into question.

    Utah holds approximately one percent of the United States' proven oil and natural gas reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Between 2001 and 2005, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved 5,077 permits to drill new oil and gas wells in Utah (a figure that includes BLM and Division managed lands). At the end of 2005, there were 2,044 approved drill permits from that five-year period that had not yet been drilled.

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    NRDC Shows Nine States How to Drive Beyond Oil
    On August 6, four NRDC staff members hit the road on a "Drive Beyond Oil Tour," cruising across nine states in a Ford Escape Hybrid SUV, the first production hybrid SUV, and a 2006 Chevrolet Impala flexible fuel vehicle (FFV) that can run on ethanol fuels as well as gasoline, to showcase the cleaner, faster and cheaper path toward energy security. The crew met with local citizens, mayors, farmers, clean energy advocates and others to talk about better technology in our vehicles, clean renewable energy sources like fuels made from home-grown crops, and wind and solar energy. Together, these alternatives will create new jobs, reduce global warming pollution, and end our dependence on oil from the Middle East and other politically volatile regions of the world. Departing from Washington, DC, the tour wound through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia and back into Washington. The tour reached over a million people through TV, print and radio media coverage, rallies, meetings, conversations on the street, and the tour's blog. The fact that gas prices have been steadily rising added to the tour's success, and NRDC's tips for saving gasoline were a particular draw for reporters and citizens alike.

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    Record Number of Beach Closings in 2005
    According to a report NRDC released on August 3, the number of closings and health advisory days at U.S. ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches topped 20,000 in 2005 - the most since NRDC began tracking the problem 16 years ago - confirming that our nation's beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution. This year's Testing the Waters report includes new information that provides a more alarming picture of the problem. For the first time, NRDC evaluated beachwater quality nationwide and found 200 beaches in two dozen states where beachwater samples violated health standards at least 25 percent of the time. In most cases, beachwater was contaminated with bacteria, and beachgoers were sometimes banned from swimming in it because of the health risks which include gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal. Click here for a list of the nation's cleanest, and dirtiest, beaches.

    In 2000, Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act, which required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise the current health standards by October 2005. The agency missed the deadline, and now says it will not be able to finish updating them until 2011. NRDC announced on August 3 a suit against the EPA for failing to modernize the standards, as ordered by Congress six years ago, and endangering public health.

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