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The Bush Administration announced its commitment to further protect the water quality of the nation's beaches and to ensure compliance with the Beaches, Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000.
The Administration's Clean Beaches strategy includes a Clean Beaches Plan, grants to states for beach monitoring and notification programs, technical guidance, scientific studies and federal water quality standards to backstop state and territorial efforts where necessary.
The BEACH Act of 2000 requires coastal states, including those bordering the Great Lakes, to adopt up-to-date pathogen criteria by April 10, 2004 to protect beach goers from harmful bacteria. The act provides that, if a state fails to meet this deadline, EPA must promptly propose federal standards to protect that state's beaches. To date, only 11 of the 35 affected states and territories have adopted up-to-date criteria for pathogens.
By June 30, EPA will propose Federal revised standards for pathogens for the states and territories that have not yet done so.
Outlining EPA's Clean Beaches Plan, Ben Grumbles, the EPA's acting assistant administrator for water stated, "President Bush is committed to carrying out his proclamation for the Year of Clean Water to significantly reduce all forms of water pollution and to make our waters better suited for recreation and other pursuits. America's families deserve clean and safe beaches. We, the states and territories must all work together to accelerate progress to adopt more protective standards."
In a letter to EPA, Jim Connaughton, the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and Dr. John Graham, the administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), underscored their support of EPA's efforts to ensure protective water quality standards for beaches.
"The BEACH Act assigns EPA a vital role in promoting scientifically strong, defensible standards to protect our nation's beaches," noted CEQ Chairman Jim Connaughton. "While we generally prefer for states to implement their own standards, we support EPA's commitment to fulfilling its oversight responsibility," said OIRA Administrator John Graham.
Over the next six months, EPA will undertake several actions. Starting in May, EPA will award grants to states and territories to augment their monitoring of beaches and reporting to the public when the beaches are closed for health reasons. By June 30, as mentioned above, EPA will move forward to propose updated standards for pathogens for those states and territories that have not yet complied with the BEACH Act. By July 31, EPA will propose updated technical guidance for more effective monitoring of pathogens at beaches. And by August 31, EPA will complete its report of beach closures and advisories for 2003.
Under the Clean Water Act, EPA issues criteria, which serve as guidance to States in adopting standards. EPA issued criteria for e-coli and enterococci in 1986, but many States still rely on outdated standards for total or fecal coliforms. EPA's research indicates that there is little correlation between coliform levels and swimming-related illness (gastroenteritis) in either marine or fresh waters. In contrast, correlations for e-coli (in fresh waters) and enterococci (in marine waters) are high, showing that these bacteria are reliable indicators for the presence of harmful pathogens.
The Clean Beaches Plan and related documents including the 35 individual letters that EPA is sending to coastal states, is available at: http://www.epa.gov/beaches/plan.htm.