EPA this week sought a delay in adopting new rules for cleaning up more than 20,000 polluted bodies of water across the country.
The agency asked the District of Columbia Circuit Court to hold action on lawsuits over the rule for 18 months while EPA reviews the rule and it attempts to make it more "workable."
The rules, drafted by the Clinton administration, have been challenged in court by utilities, manufacturers and farm groups who say it cost them billions of dollars to comply with the rules.
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.
"We have an existing TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) 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," explained Whitman. "I am asking for this additional time to listen carefully to all parties with a stake in restoring America''s waters."
Environmentalists said this latest decision is just another example of the Bush administration using "backdoor tactics to derail important environmental protections."
"The Bush administration is setting in motion a process designed not only to delay but also to weaken the TMDL program -- the Clean Water Act''s primary tool for cleaning up polluted lakes, beaches, rivers, and streams," said Mike Lozeau, staff attorney in Earthjustice''s Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School. "The Bush administration has now aimed an arrow at the heart of one of the Clean Water Act''s most important provisions."
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 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.
Last month, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) completed a study, mandated by Congress, that makes a number of recommendations for improving the program. The academy panel recommended a more science-based approach and suggested that some of the rivers and streams be dropped from a cleanup list until better standards are created.
Whitman 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.
by Virginia Sutcliffe