Combest, Stenholm Urge EPA Administrator to Withdraw and Modify Proposed TMDL Rule

Jun 14, 2000

Combest, Stenholm Urge EPA Administrator to Withdraw and Modify Proposed TMDL Rule

Washington, DC — Today, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Larry Combest (R-TX) and Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner urging that the EPA reconsider its proposed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) rules for agriculture in light of the Agency's recent modifications which excluded forestry from the regulations.   The complete text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Administrator Browner:

We write to express our strong concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to remove controversial forestry provisions from its proposed TMDL rules prior to their final publication later this month.  We refer specifically to the June 8, 2000 letter from Assistant Administrator Chuck Fox to Chairman Bud Shuster of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and similar letters to other members of Congress.

We do not disagree with EPA's assessment that the agency needs to further "engage stakeholders extensively in reviewing the forestry provisions" in the proposed rules.  However, this highly unusual decision raises concerns regarding the procedures of and compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).  This piecemeal approach also raises concerns regarding the EPA's ability to work in good faith with the public to develop a coherent policy.

As you know, the purpose of the APA is to provide an open process in which to maximize fair and inclusive public involvement in agency decision-making.  EPA's recent decision, however, suggests that the agency intends to extend such process to one segment of the public to the exclusion of another.  The agriculture community objects to several provisions in the EPA's proposed rules as strongly as the forestry community objected to the provisions EPA now intends to remove and for nearly identical reasons.  It seems arbitrary for the EPA to unilaterally exclude these stakeholders from the "extensive" additional "review" that has been promised the forestry sector.

Furthermore, the discussions with members of Congress leading to EPA's announcement on forestry suggest the strong likelihood that similar discussions may be taking place with respect to other provisions in the proposed rules.  A broad range of interests, including leading advocates within the environmental community, have voiced their strong opposition to various provisions in the proposed rules.  It is our concern that the EPA may be making commitments to some of these interests using a similar, albeit less visible, approach to that taken with members of Congress on the forestry provisions.

At this late juncture, the fair and appropriate course for the EPA to pursue, and one that is more consistent with the purposes of the APA, is to withdraw its proposed rules altogether and go back to the drawing board.  Thereafter, the agency may, as Mr. Fox suggested to Chairman Shuster, repropose its modified rules at some future date and re-engage all of the public, not just some, in a vigorous review of the agency's new position.

Larry Combest     Charlie Stenholm
Chairman             Ranking Member