Final Withdrawal of 2000 TMDL Rule Takes Effect

April 1, 2003
In mid March the Environmental Protection Agency officially withdrew the much-maligned July 2000 final Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) rule.

By James Laughlin

In mid March the Environmental Protection Agency officially withdrew the much-maligned July 2000 final Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) rule. The action was applauded by many in the industrial, agriculture and forestry markets who viewed the rule as unworkable and burdensome.

EPA received a huge number of comments opposing the rule and was challenged in court by some two dozen parties. Congress stopped the rule's implementation, and the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NRC) reported on the many drawbacks of the rule.

"In order to ensure that this nation's bodies of water are cleaned up, we need an effective national program that involves the active participation and support of all levels of government and local communities," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman in a statement announcing publication of the withdrawal notice. "Unfortunately, the 2000 rule, designed to implement the TMDL program, fell short of that goal and others."

The July 2000 rule originally was designed to promote more comprehensive inventories of impaired waters. The rule was also intended to strengthen TMDLs by requiring EPA to approve implementation plans containing lists of actions and schedules to reduce pollutant loadings. Finally, the rule included changes to the NPDES program to help in implementing TMDLs and to better address point source discharges to waters not meeting water quality standards prior to establishment of a TMDL.

The July 2000 rule was controversial from the outset. Even before the rule was published in the Federal Register on July 13, 2000, Congress prohibited EPA from implementing the final rule through a spending prohibition attached to an FY2000 appropriations bill. The measure prohibited EPA from using funds "to make a final determination on or implement'' the July 2000 rule.

Because of the continuing controversy regarding the July 2000 rule, EPA set a new effective date of April 30, 2003, to allow time for reconsideration of the rule.

The withdrawal of the July 2000 rule will have no impact on the existing TMDL program, which has been in effect for a number of years. In 2001 and 2002 combined, more than 5,000 TMDLs were approved or established under the current rule. The number of TMDLs approved or established annually has steadily increased in the last four years jumping from 500 in 1999 to nearly 3,000 in 2002.

EPA has been working steadily to identify options to improve the program, including addressing problems reported by the National Academy of Sciences. The agency has conducted several public meetings and is reviewing its ongoing implementation of the existing program with a view toward continuous improvement and regulatory changes in light of stakeholder input and the NRC recommendations.

"We have an existing TMDL program, and this action will not stop ongoing implementation of that program, development of water quality standards, issuance of permits to control discharges, or enforcement against violators. EPA and states will continue to cooperate to identify impaired waters and set protective standards for those waters. EPA will continue to work diligently on ways to improve this program to ensure that we meet our goal of purer water," Whitman said.

James Laughlin, Editor


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