EPA feels the heat over TMDL proposals, too

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WASHINGTON – Coinciding with the Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents’ trip to Washington last week, on March 13, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman officially withdrew the July 2000 final Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) rule.

The 2000 rule drew more than 34,000 comments and was challenged in court by some two dozen parties.

Congress stopped the rule’s implementation.

Still under review. Whitman said implementation of the existing TMDL program will continue.

EPA is continuing efforts to improve the TMDL program. It has conducted several public meetings and is reviewing its ongoing implementation of the existing program.

Controversial, too. EPA’s Chuck Sutfin, who tackled the topic of TMDLs with the Ohio farm group, admitted the program “has been controversial for a long time.”

Sutfin is director of assessment and watershed protection with the agency.

The Clean Water Act requires states to identify waters not meeting water quality standards and to develop plans for cleaning them up.

Basically, the watershed protection program looks at a watershed and creates a document that defines allowable “loading” or existence of pollutants and allocates that loading to both point and nonpoint sources, including agriculture.

The existing rules were created in 1985, but the U.S. EPA was sued in the early 1990s to enforce this program in more than 40 states, including Ohio, and is 20 states are currently required by court order to develop TMDLs.

Just ‘information’ source. The TMDL rule is controversial, Sutfin said, because of the perception that TMDLs force regulatory action on unregulated sources, particularly agriculture.

The rule “is just an information-based document” that informs officials, Sutfin told the Farm Bureau leaders, and there are no plans for TMDLs to become regulatory for nonpoint pollution sources, such as agriculture.

“There’s a perception that there might be [a plan], but that’s just not the case,” he said.

Supreme Court petition. Not so, says the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The federation filed a petition in February asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a California case regarding TMDLs.

The Farm Bureau said the U.S. 9th Circuit Court incorrectly ruled that nonpoint sources are subject to EPA regulations. The farm group said the Clean Water Act “restricts federal regulation only to point source pollutants, such as end-of-pipe discharges… Nonpoint pollution is regulated by states under a separate section of the Clean Water Act.”

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