EPA ABANDONS TMDLs
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to withdraw the July 2000 final rule which revised EPA's total maximum daily load (TMDL) program under the Clean Water Act. The 2000 rule was determined to be unworkable based on reasons described by thousands of comments and was challenged in court by some two dozen parties.
Ultimately, Congress passed a law prohibiting EPA from implementing the July 2000 rule. Further, the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NRC) issued a report with numerous recommendations for improving the rule and program, which were not reflected in the July 2000 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," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said.
"Unfortunately, the 2000 rule designed to implement the TMDL program fell short of that goal and others. We have an existing TMDL program and this action 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. EPA will continue to work diligently on ways to improve this program to ensure that we meet our goal of purer water."
The Clean Water Act requires states to identify waters not meeting water quality standards and to develop plans for cleaning them up. The TMDL program provides a process for determining pollution budgets for the Nation's waters that once implemented will assure that Clean Water Act goals will be met.
In the meantime, EPA says it continues to work on improvements to the TMDL program in order to further enhance the quality of the nation's waters. In 2001 and 2002 combined, more than 5,000 TMDLs were approved or established under the current TMDL rule. The number of TMDLs approved or established annually has steadily increased in the last four years jumping from 500 in 1999 to nearly 3000 in 2002. EPA is trying to identify options to improve the TMDL program, including addressing problems reported by the National Academy of Sciences. The agency has conducted several public meetings and is reviewing its ongoing implementation of the existing program with a view toward continuous improvement and regulatory changes in light of stakeholder input and the NRC recommendations.