EPA's Runoff Rules Get Downstream Criticism
TMDL rule changes impact producers' irrigation choices
(July 11, 2000)
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas) and Ranking Minority Member Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas) sharply criticized the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to finalize rule changes on producers' management of irrigation and rainfall water runoff from their fields.
EPA's rule change requires calculation of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) of soil and other particles carried in water that washes across fields and forestry lands, that may eventually find its way to streams and rivers.
Despite more than a year of congressional efforts of bi-partisan unity to bring EPA back on track for a science-based approach to assure water quality of streams and rivers, the finalized rule change cleared today with the approval of EPA Administrator Carol Browner. President Clinton has delayed as long as possible in signing a law from Congress blocking "new" EPA rules, in order to allow the TMDL rule changes to become established — if only by a matter of one day or so.
"Farmers still have no way of knowing from EPA if they must get federal permission for irrigation of their crops, or whether a heavy rain washing over their fields will turn landowners into lawbreakers. EPA's rule change is a public policy debacle with the potential for a national cost in billions of dollars and lost credibility. Clearly, EPA has mishandled this process from the beginning and continues to do so by going ahead with this rule change. Their attempt to dodge responsibility by forcing a rule on the next president clearly shows a lack of confidence in the integrity of their own proposal," Combest and Stenholm said in a joint statement.
Congress originally designed Clean Water Act regulations to measure TMDLs only for point sources of pollution, such as specific industrial sites. However, on August 23, 1999, EPA proposed to apply TMDL calculations to non-point sources, such as general water runoff from forestry, farm and ranch lands.
For well over a year, criticism has mounted against EPA intentions. General Accounting Office reports question the science and costs of EPA's rule change. After the Society of American Foresters and the National Association of State Foresters investigation revealed mistakes discovered in EPA's data, the agency moved to delay its TMDL rule on forestry. Nearly half of the members of the House of Representatives have cosponsored legislation to block EPA's rule changes. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council issued a report critical of EPA's lack of science in its decision-making.
MORE about EPA's new TMDL runoff rule
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