EPA will review TMDL rule

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will take another look at a controversial rule regarding total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs, in water quality regulations.

The TMDL regulations were the subject of several lawsuits since the rule was finalized last summer. Some two dozen parties challenged the rule in court in August 2000.

On July 16, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman filed a motion in the District of Columbia Circuit Court asking the court to hold action on the lawsuits over the rule for 18 months so the agency could revise the rule.

Under pressure. Because of the controversy, Congress prohibited EPA from putting the rule into effect by denying funds for that purpose.

Whitman said the review will not stop ongoing implementation of the existing TMDL program, development of water quality standards, issuance of permits to control discharges, or enforcement against violators.

“I am asking for this additional time to listen carefully to all parties with a stake in restoring America’s waters – to find a better way to finish the important job of cleaning our great rivers, lakes and streams,” Whitman said.

Nonpoint question. According to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, the proposed rule regarding TMDLs under scrutiny included nonpoint sources, which would cripple farms, ranches and forestry operations at a time when producers could least afford new regulations.

“It was unfortunate Farm Bureau and others had to challenge in court EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act to include nonpoint sources in the TMDL regulatory water program,” Stallman said.

The farm group leader said the agency “repeatedly and determinedly tried to usurp water quality enforcement power of state and local agencies.”

Clean Water Act. 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 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.

The EPA 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.

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