EPA Administrator Christie Whitman took action yesterday to delay the impaired water program by pledging to review a recent rule. EPA filed a motion in the District of Columbia Circuit Court asking the court to hold action on lawsuits over the rule for an 18-month period. This will enable the agency to review and revise the rule to achieve a program that is more "workable" to both industry and environmentalists.
The rule in question focuses on water quality. The Clean Water Act requires states to identify waters not meeting water quality standards and to develop plans for cleaning them up. The framework for these plans is the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program. A TMDL is essentially a prescription designed to restore the health of the polluted body of water by indicating the amount of pollutants that may be present in the water and still meet water quality standards.
"We have an existing TMDL program and this review will not stop ongoing implementation of that program, development of water quality standards, issuance of permits to control discharges, or enforcement against violators. EPA and states will continue to cooperate to identify impaired waters and set protective standards for those waters," explained Whitman. "I am asking for this additional time to listen carefully to all parties with a stake in restoring America's waters-states, cities, small towns and rural communities, plus industry, the environmental community and farmers to find a better way to finish the important job of cleaning our great rivers, lakes and streams."
The agency took this action because of the ongoing controversy surrounding the rule and in light of the study completed in June by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
The criticized rule was published July 13, 2000. Because of the controversy, Congress prohibited EPA from putting the rule into effect by denying funds for that purpose. More than 20 parties challenged the rule in court in August 2000.
Yesterday's action asks the court to stay this litigation to correspond with EPA's plan to propose an 18-month extension of the effective date of the rule.
"In order to ensure that this nation's bodies of water are cleaned up, we need an effective national program that involves the active participation and support of all levels of government and local communities," Whitman said. "Unfortunately, many have said the rule designed to implement the TMDL program falls short of achieving the goals."
Whitman refers to the fact that the TMDL rule has been challenged in the courts by numerous parties. In addition, the (NAS) completed a study, mandated by the Congress, that makes a number of recommendations for improving the program.
She emphasized the NAS recommendations will be studied at the same time there is a public process going forward to consult with all interested parties. Over the next several months the agency will conduct a stakeholder process and intends to propose necessary changes by Spring 2002 and hopes to adopt such changes within the 18-month time frame.
More than 20,000 bodies of water across America have been identified as polluted. These waters include more than 300,000 river and shoreline miles and five million acres of lakes. EPA estimates that more than 40,000 TMDLs must be established.