USDA Seen as Providing Legal Cover for EPA
Wingate, North Carolina — Today, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), convened a field hearing in Wingate, North Carolina to review the impact on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal to impose Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for non-point source pollution control.
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. EPA plans to finalize its rules by June 30, 2000 despite repeated requests by states, landowners, and Congress to give the public more time to review the regulations.
"It has become increasingly obvious that EPA officials intend to push these rules through before they leave office at the end of the year," Goodlatte said. "It appears that the timeline is more important than producing good policy for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners."
Chairman Goodlatte questioned witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA regarding the reversal of USDA's position on the proposed rules. After noting a previous letter from USDA strongly opposing the new regulations, the chairman questioned the witnesses on a hand-written note from EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Charles Fox to Linda Delgado and USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Jim Lyons which read, "Please see attached. This is getting out of hand! We need to talk ASAP. I'm told that your letter will also be used in litigation against us."
"It is curious to me how the EPA and the USDA seem to now be in lockstep on the content of these proposed rules," Goodlatte said. "Initially, USDA sent a letter to EPA expressing serious concerns that EPA was exceeding its authority, was thwarting 27 years of USDA cooperative work with states, local governments and landowners, and was heaping excessive and undisclosed costs onto the states, local communities and landowners. Now, according to a joint statement issued on May 1, 2000, USDA is EPA's strongest ally."
"States, farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are afraid of EPA based on past experience. EPA and USDA need to slow down and work more closely with these people," said Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC). "It would be better for the agencies to focus on making these rules work for the affected public rather than trying to protect themselves from lawsuits."
In order to get more public input on the proposed rules, a bipartisan group of 30 U.S. Representatives, led by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee introduced the Water Pollution Program Improvement Act (H.R. 4502). H.R. 4502 would require the EPA to delay its rules until the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) conducts a study on the scientific basis of the development and implementation of TMDLs, the costs of the rules to states and landowners, and the availability of alternative programs to address point and non-point source pollution control.