Combest, Stenholm Introduce Water Pollution Program Improvement Act

May 19, 2000

Bill Would Prevent EPA from Overriding State Authority for TMDLs

Washington, DC — Today, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee were joined by a bipartisan group of 28 co-sponsors in introducing legislation (H.R. 4502) designed to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from overriding congressional intent by imposing new rules regulating Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) from non-point pollution sources.

In August of 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed two changes to the regulations governing the implementation of the Clean Water Act which, if finalized, would fundamentally alter the agency's role in the management of nonpoint sources of pollution.  The EPA's proposal has met with widespread opposition to both the substance of these rules and the accelerated process employed by the EPA to bring them to finality.

"Instead of allowing states to develop programs specific to their local needs, the EPA is using faulty data and assumptions to override the authority Congress explicitly left to the states," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) said.  "Its disregard for congressional intent has the potential to cost farmers, rancher, and timber workers millions of dollars without actually helping the environment."

The Water Pollution Program Improvement Act would require the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct a study on the scientific basis of the development and implementation of TMDLs and the availability of alternative programs to address point and non-point source pollution control.  The study would then be peer reviewed by appropriate federal, state and private sector interests.

In addition, the legislation requires that the EPA Administrator consider the findings of the NAS prior to rendering a final decision on the EPA's proposed TMDL rules.  H.R. 4502 further forbids the Administrator from changing any definition of, or distinction between, point and non-point sources of pollution contained in current regulations, unless Congress passes a law doing so.

"Very serious concerns have been raised about whether some of these proposals exceed the authority Congress has given EPA under the Clean Water Act," said Ranking Committee Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX).  "In addition, considering how tight federal conservation funds have become, and in light of the overwhelming workload facing our conservation agencies, I think it is critical that we make certain our chosen approach is supported by sound, cost-effective science."

The Clean Water Act in 1972 established a clear role for the Federal Government in the regulation of point source pollution through the National Point Source Discharge Elimination (NPDES) program.  In the Act, Congress specifically excluded agricultural storm water discharge from the point source designation, thereby placing discharges from farming, ranching and silviculture operations outside of the reach of the federal permitting program.

In 1987 Congress amended the Clean Water Act to establish a framework within which  states could exercise their authority to manage nonpoint sources of pollution.  Moreover, Congress has never granted the federal government an affirmative regulatory role in the management of nonpoint sources of pollution.  Neither has Congress granted the EPA the authority to unilaterally change the distinctions between point and nonpoint sources of pollution written into the law.