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New water rule limits total amount of pollutants -- applies Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)
Fair Use Statement

Source: ENS News

New Water Pollution Rules Get Rocky Launch

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, July 12, 2000 (ENS) - In clear defiance of Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued new rules intended to stem the flow of pollution into the nation’s waterways. The move Tuesday, timed to circumvent Congressional attempts to block implementation of the regulations, set off a storm of protests by industry and business groups, as well as by members of Congress.

The sweeping new rules will require states to make comprehensive pollution surveys of more than 20,000 bodies of water over the next 15 years. Those surveys would be used to set Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits on the amounts of pollutants that a polluted lake, river or stream can carry as part of a long term cleanup plan.

A TMDL is essentially a "pollution budget" designed to restore the health of the polluted body of water. It targets individual pollutants and polluters, and specifies reductions in the amounts to pollutants necessary to meet federal clean water standards.

For the first time, the rule will give EPA the authority to control not only pollution from particular point sources like sewage pipes, but also non-point source pollution, including runoff from industrial and construction sites, farms, logging areas and even suburban streets and lawns. Currently, the states regulate non-point source pollution.

"Today the Clinton-Gore Administration is taking action geared to finish the job of cleaning up America's rivers, lakes and streams," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "Americans want and deserve clean beaches and safe waters in which to swim and fish. Yet, 40 percent of America's waters are still too polluted."

"Some 20,000 river segments, lakes and estuaries across America do not meet water quality goals for protecting health. More than 90 percent of all Americans live within 10 miles of a polluted body of water. This program is designed to control the greatest remaining threat to America's waters - polluted runoff. The time has come to move forward and live up to the promise of the Clean Water Act by making our waters fishable and swimmable once again," said Browner.

The rule is aimed at protecting the health and livelihood of the more than 90 percent of the American population that lives within 10 miles of a polluted body of water. The EPA says its action is geared to address the greatest remaining source of water pollution in the United States - uncontrolled runoff.

The plan builds on the successful cleanup models of the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, using measurable targets to achieve reductions in water pollution. To help make the program cost effective, it includes a pollution credits trading system under which companies or individuals who exceed minimum pollution reduction requirements can sell credits to companies that are not meeting the runoff rules.

EPA is asking states to prioritize their cleanup plans, giving higher priority to polluted waters that are sources of drinking water or support endangered species.

President Bill Clinton announced the proposed new rule last August. The final program announced and signed Tuesday comes after four years of extensive consultation with states, local communities, and agricultural, environmental and industrial groups.

"Today’s action by the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen water quality protections nationwide is a critical, common sense step to ensure clean, safe water for all Americans," said Clinton. "While we have made tremendous progress over the past quarter-century, too many of our rivers, lakes and bays are still too polluted for fishing or swimming. With the new strategy we launch today, we will work in close partnership with states and communities to tackle our remaining pollution threats and complete the job of cleaning up America’s precious waterways."

The plan faces opposition from groups that will be affected by the new rule. Complying with the new runoff rules could cost the forestry, manufacturing, construction and agricultural industries billions of dollars.

On June 30, Republican members of Congress attached a rider to the final version of an emergency supplemental spending bill that would prevent the EPA from using any funds to implement the new rule. The measure would effectively block the regulation for 16 months, or until October 2001.

President Clinton countered by urging the EPA to hastily complete the rule before he signs the spending bill, which he must do by July 13. The release of the new rule now makes the Congressional rider moot - it cannot apply to any rule that is already on the books.

However, the EPA chose to impose its own delay on the new regulation, setting its effective date to coincide with the end of the moratorium that Congress had sought. The rule will now take effect October 1, 2001. This will give Congress "ample time" to review the program, EPA said, which is precisely what Congress said it wanted.

The EPA’s announcement still met immediate opposition. Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a Missouri Republican, released a statement along with the Pulp and Paperworkers' Resource Council criticizing EPA’s action.

"The President is intentionally skirting around Congress to implement a regulation that the people of this country and their elected leaders do not want," said Emerson. "There is no scientific basis for this regulation. Even the EPA Regional Director from Texas admits this. It is simply rhetoric to temporarily satisfy the environmental elitists without consideration of the to cost jobs and the very livelihood of rural America."

Senator Tim Hutchinson, the Arkansas Republican who helped push through the rider to block the EPA rule, blasted the EPA’s decision.

"Today's signing of the final TMDL rule is a slap in the face to Arkansas farmers, business owners and private landowners," said Hutchinson. "The White House has gone too far in their zeal to overregulate and impose unreasonable regulations on our property owners, and thousands of Arkansans are going to be outraged about today's news. I would encourage the Administration to explain why they felt the need to disregard congressional intent and serious public concern to push the finalization of this rule through at the last minute."

Hutchinson also said he would try to add a rider to a fiscal year 2001 funding bill to block enforcement of the new regulations.

In an attempt to pacify Congress and industrial opposition, the EPA agreed to a number of changes in the program. In general, the changes provide the states with significant new flexibility in implementing the program.

These changes include: dropping provisions that could have required new permits for forestry, livestock, and aquaculture operations enhancing state flexibility in meeting the rules giving states four years instead of two years to update inventories of polluted waters allowing states to establish their own schedules for when polluted waters will achieve health standards, not to exceed 15 years

But two members of the House Agriculture Committee - chair Larry Combest, Republican of Texas and ranking minority member Charlie Stenholm, a Texas Democrat, sharply criticized the EPA’s rule for its potential effects on the agriculture industry.

"Farmers still have no way of knowing from EPA if they must get federal permission for irrigation of their crops, or whether a heavy rain washing over their fields will turn landowners into lawbreakers," said Combest and Stenholm in a joint statement. "EPA’s rule change is a public policy debacle with the potential for a national cost in billions of dollars and lost credibility."

The two Representatives pointed to a report by the National Research Council that criticized the EPA’s poor use of science in crafting new regulations, saying the study demonstrates that the new TMDL rule may not be based on "good science."

The American Farm Bureau Federation warned that the plan "would cripple farms, ranches and forestry operations at a time when producers can least afford new regulations," said Bob Stallman, the group’s president.

"Farmers and ranchers have made much progress in improving water quality through voluntary, incentive based programs. This progress would be halted by EPA's unworkable proposal - a plan that runs counter to many successful local initiatives. It will, in fact, result in much litigation and further delays in improving water quality," Stallman warned.

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) president Bob Mitchell said the EPA rule "will bring new burdens to home builders and land developers trying to meet demand for new affordable homes, a federal takeover of water quality obligations for local and state governments striving to maintain healthy, livable communities, and utter chaos for local environmental agencies such as state and interstate water pollution control administrators, who in a June 29th letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner, called the new set of rules ‘technically, scientifically and fiscally unworkable.’"

"Despite a personal request from NAHB's leadership on Friday to delay the rule, the EPA has rushed through a regulation that will only dirty the waters of federal, state and local government cooperation on river, lake and stream protection," Mitchell concluded.

The chemical manufacturing industry, represented by American Chemistry Council president and CEO Fred Webber, called the decision "contrary to common sense. Moreover, the process used to finalize the rule constitutes a possible violation of the law. EPA should stop politicizing efforts to improve water quality."

"By ignoring the states' input on this rule, EPA's decision is actually bad for the environment and will result in a needless waste of taxpayer dollars and private sector resources," Webber argued. "The American Chemistry Council will seek all appropriate remedies to EPA's decision," he warned.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation, called the move "underhanded," and said it will carry "enormous costs and questionable benefits."

"Congress had justly sought to prevent EPA from taking over state control of local surface water quality, with a new federal program that would force massive costs on communities for uncertain results," said Thomas Donohue, Chamber president and CEO. "For months EPA has ignored industry concerns and now they’re ignoring Congress as well. EPA’s end run around congressional authority is a clear example of an agency out of control."

The final TMDL rule is available at: (warning this is a large PDF file - 617K)

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Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

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