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Clean Water Hearing Summaries (12-06-02)

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Hearing Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act
October 8, 2002

Bottom Line
On October 8, 2002, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Distinguished panelists presented their testimony. CWA is now heralded as the most important environmental legislation to date. The hearing promoted a discussion of the current state of the nation's waterways. At the time the statute was enacted the nation's waterways were in serious danger, today the situation is even worse. Panelists testified that the administration has taken steps to effectively reverse the successes of the CWA and consequently put the country's watersheds at risk. Congressional leaders have proposed legislation to amend the CWA. Some provisions of the Act have yet to be enacted most importantly is that of nonpoint source pollution control and the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program.

Senators Present
James Jeffords (I-VT), Robert Stafford (ret.), George Mitchell (ret. D-ME), Lincoln D. Chafee (R-RI), Hillary Clinton (D-NY).

Hearing Summary
Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) began his opening statement on the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the CWA by acknowledging the key role that retired Senators Robert Stafford and George Mitchell played in the 1987 reauthorization of the act that changed the CWA. Their efforts, lead by Senator Chafee, now deceased, brought together bipartisan support to override President Reagan's veto in 1987. Despite more than 10 years of enactment and enforcement, the 1987 amendments to the act contain the issues facing the act today that remain almost identical as those in 1987. The question remains as to how to implement provisions regarding the nonpoint source pollution, stormwater runoff, sewer overflows and gaps in funding and infrastructure. Jeffords strongly supports current efforts to amend the CWA such as an amendment being proposed by Senator Lincoln Chafee. The amendment provides smaller communities covered by stormwater regulations to continue to draw upon federal funding.

Tracy Mehan, Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), discussed some of the history behind CWA. Mehan recanted the evolution of the EPA's role as the nation's waterways have evolved from the water pollution crisis in the 70's to the 1972 CWA campaign that began a 30 year legacy of one of the most environmentally important legislative movements. From significant point source reductions to results observed after the enactment of 1987 Clean Water Act Amendments, in which states sought to capitalize on the State Revolving Loan Funds (SRF), the EPA has witnessed successful partnerships in solving pollution problems. The SRF provide national financial resources for clean water that are matched by the states such that over time the purchasing power would be magnified when compared to direct distribution of funds. The EPA also observed that restoration and preservation have been approached on basis of habitats that involve integral systems of value that warrant consorted response on a local scale. Mehan testified that often the case promoted by the EPA is toward a state-based balanced watershed approach that includes the TMDL program as a tool for implementation. Mehan emphasized cost optimization through economic incentives for voluntary reductions as well as water quality trading as items necessary for a water quality based approach to achieve a non-point source program. Mehan expressed concern for bridging long term funding issues outlined in the EPA's Gap Analysis study a gap that exists due to challenges to aging wastewater infrastructure and the need to secure clean and safe drinking water. In the EPA's analysis, a revenue growth model is preferred that translates from a $122 billion capital to $10 billion gap over 20 years. The model, however, does not include adequate consideration of demand, that is reducing costs along with efficiency of facilities, all brought on again by an aging infrastructure. Mehan expressed the EPA's commitment to engaging stakeholders to address future challenges regarding infrastructure and sustainability of long-term strategies to ensure a nation with clean water.

Thomas A. Weber, Associate Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), provided details on the USDA's role in implementing the CWA. The passage of the CWA placed new emphasis on water quality at USDA and became a critical component of associated agencies. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, Forest Service, Farm Service Agency, Agricultural Research Service, the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, and Economic Research Service. There should be no issue like in the Dust Bowl days with drought that was similar to the nation's current major drought situation. Historical problems should have been solved with the programs related to water quality with the CWA. Smart land management and soil erosion reduction programs have been beneficial in terms of cleaner water, improved fish and wildlife habitat and healthy soil. Weber emphasized the role of the USDA with respect to conservation and referenced a recent document released by the agency that encourages market based solutions and promotes voluntary conservation opportunities for farmers and ranchers. CWA goals will be strengthened and complimented by provisions under the 2002 Farm Bill. As a result of this bill, the USDA will take action on conservation projects that include nutrient management, sediment control and wetland protection. Weber also stressed the participation of the USDA in the Year of Clean Water with events coordinated by America's Clean Water Foundation to inform the public.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., represented the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Clean Water Network, discussed the legacy of the CWA, the current situation of the act and the implications to the nation's water supply. Kennedy stressed the importance of successful outcomes as a direct result of implementation of the CWA. Examples of success include: strong stocks of fish in the Hudson River, restoration of marshes and habitats in Tampa Bay and the thriving wildlife found again in the Boston Harbor. In discussing challenges ahead, Kennedy pointed out that water pollution is on the rise, partly as a result of improved monitoring techniques; however, the reality of increased pollution does exist. For instance, estuaries are degraded and depleted of oxygen such that aquatic life can not be supported. Overall, 44% of the nation's estuaries are in danger and every year the number of beach closings has risen. Fish consumption advisories exist in 28 states for 71% of the coastlines and 82% of estuaries. Kennedy pointed out that the true effectiveness of CWA remains to be seen. The statute has not actually been fully implemented or enforced. He stressed that the lawmakers 30 years ago truly intended that the nation achieve the goal of making all waters safe for fishing, swimming, and ending the discharge of pollutants. Kennedy goes on to explain how the Bush administration has weakened the CWA. He blames successful lobbying by industries seeking to reduce their water pollution discharges along with derailing of advances, taking advantage of legal loopholes and essentially legalizing prohibited practices.

Sources: Hearing testimony, U.S. Senate website, Congressional Research Reports, May 2000 issue Geotimes, EPA website
Prepared by Fall 2002 AGI/AAPG Government Affairs Intern, Annette Veilleux

Hearing on the Use of Water Quality Trading
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
June 13, 2002

The Bottom Line
Witnesses agreed that a water quality trading program could potentially provide great benefits for water quality, and could be the next step needed in cleaning up our nation's waters.  Its market-based incentives should spur the private sector, owner of two-thirds of US land, to become involved in pollution reduction.  While the overall tenor of the hearing was in favor of a trading system, concerns were raised regarding the possible creation of pollution "hot spots", a lack of accurate pollution measurements and effective land-source locators, and the setting of a cap that was too high. The subcommittee web site contains additional background on the hearing and information on the witnesses.

Members Present
Rep. John J. Duncan (R-TN), Chairman Rep. Peter A. Defazio (D-OR), Ranking Member
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) Rep. Nicholas V. Lampson (D-TX)
Rep. C.L. Otter (R-ID)
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) 
Rep. John Boozman (R-AR)

Hearing Summary
On June 13th, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on water quality trading.  Water quality trading is when sources of pollutants make arrangements to reduce the overall total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) of those pollutants in order to improve the overall water quality within a specific area.  The water quality trading plan currently being discussed would be on a watershed basis.  Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-TN) began the hearing by commenting on the improvements in water quality to date.  He attributed these improvements to massive financial investments, particularly in point source control, as a result of the Clean Water Act.  He then recommended that it was time to move beyond the command and control style of water quality improvement and to consider the implementation of a water quality trading program to achieve greater benefits.  He pointed to the emissions trading under the Clean Air Act as an example where this type of trading system has been successful.

Panel I
First panel witnesses included Benjamin Grumbles, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Bruce Knight, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Grumbles explained that while the Clean Water Act (CWA) has dramatically increased the number of clean waterways, 60% of assessed waters meet CWA standards.  The process of cleaning up the remaining 40% of the waters promises to be more complicated than what has been experienced to date.  As a result, "greater innovation and flexibility in [EPA's] operations and core programs" will be needed.  EPA considers water quality trading as the tool that will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the CWA.  Existing water quality controls will remain in place, but the trading will add a mechanism to provide market-based incentives for individuals and companies to improve water quality.  Knight expressed the USDA's support of the EPA's water quality trading proposal and highlighted the flexibility and voluntary nature of the trading program.  He concluded by stating, "agricultural producers, communities around the country, and the environment stand to benefit greatly from [water quality trading]."

During the question and answer period following panel one, Rep. Duncan asked whether or not water quality trading was legal under the CWA.  Grumbles answered that the CWA does seem to legally allow for this trading.  A clarification was also made that water quality trading is to occur within each individual watershed, not between watersheds.  Acting on a watershed by watershed basis, along with other safeguards built into the trading program, would serve to prevent the creation of "hot spots", another concern raised by Rep. Duncan.  Rep. C.L. Otter (R-ID) asked how the health of a watershed would be assessed and what levels of TMDLs would be allowed.  Both witnesses responded, calling for good science to set the standards and limits but also recognizing that there is currently a water pollution problem that needs best management practices put in place today to address this need for improvement while the research on standards continues.

Panel II
The second panel was composed of five witnesses: Thomas Morrissey, Director of the Water Management Bureau for the Department of Environmental Protection; Thomas Morgan, General Manager for Montgomery Water Works and Sanitary Sewer Board; Anne Coan, North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation; Robert Johnson, Executive Vice President for the Wildlife Habitat Council; and Rena Steinzor, Professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and representative for the Center for Progressive Regulation.

Morrissey presented the successful trading program that aims to clean up the Long Island Sound as a real world example of how water quality trading has worked.  The Long Island Sound is on its way to meeting its 2014 nitrogen reduction goal and it is estimated that the State of Connecticut alone will save close to $200 million dollars as a result of the implementation of the water quality trading program.  Morrissey noted that establishing an appropriate TMDL cap is essential for the success of a trading program.  He concluded by saying that while trading is a complex process to understand, he urges the committee to look at it because of the great potential benefits.

Morgan, also an advocate of water quality trading, focused on the issue that "we face separate and sometimes competing requirements for drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, sanitary sewer discharges . . . so we end up having to develop separate programs to address all of these."  He described this phenomenon as "stovepiped" regulations created to solve a problem that would be much more efficiently solved by an integrated approach, such as water quality trading.

Coan testified on the experiences of North Carolina farmers who have been involved in a water quality trading program -- Tar-Pamlico Trading Program.  The farmers "continue to support voluntary, incentive-based programs for water quality improvement, and . . . feel that trading could be a viable option to achieve water quality goals, despite [their] concerns with the existing Tar-Pamlico trading program."  She presented various problem areas in the Tar-Pamlico program that she urged the committee to consider if and when they choose to implement a water quality trading program.  The largest problems experienced by the farmers included: progress made by individual farmers wasn't always counted or recognized, models that were used to predict nutrient load contributions from various land sources were inaccurate, and there was a need for tools to better estimate nutrient reductions.

Johnson highlighted the fact that until now, point sources have been the target of reductions.  He sees great potential in a water quality trading program that would help reduce non-point pollution by providing market-based incentives that would encourage the private sector to get involved in making the reductions.  As more than two thirds of the land in the continental US is privately owned, he views participation in water quality improvement efforts by this group as essential.

Steinzor, while recognizing the potential benefits of implementing a water quality trading program, warned of its pitfalls.  "Expanding the use of market-based mechanisms to situations where it replaces regulatory requirements without statutory authorization and where it produces localized 'hot spots' of pollution that harm human health and the environment will only serve to discredit trading as a viable approach for environmental protection. . . ."

The second question and answer period began with Morrissey being asked whether or not he shared Steinzor's concerns considering his experience with the water quality trading program in Connecticut.  Morrissey responded that Steinzor's concerns were legitimate, however, they had complied with many of the points she had made in order to assure that the result of the trading program was a positive one for all parties.  Steinzor replied that, while knowing relatively little about it, she too believed that the Connecticut program was a sound one but she is concerned that the EPA will open the gate for some "bad schemes by trying to be all things to all people."  Her main point was that it is essential that water quality trading is gone about in a careful, smart, and shrewd way in order to experience good results as opposed to embarrassment.

-- SPR

Hearing on the Future of the TMDL Program: How to Make TMDLs Effective
Tools for Improving Water
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
November 15, 2001

Hearing Summary
The hearing was called to order by Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.  Duncan provided some background on the Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL program established in Section 303 of the Clean Water Act.  A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards.  States are required to provide lists of impaired waters and establish TMDLs for each pollutant that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) specifies.  A July 2000 rule issued by EPA to comprehensively amend the program was effectively blocked by Congress after it was challenged by various industry, environmental, and state organizations.  EPA was directed to conduct more complete analyses of the costs of the TMDL rule changes and the program as a whole, and to contract with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for a review of the quality of science used to develop and implement TMDLs.  This hearing deals with EPA's plans for managing the TMDL program in light of the congressional request to review the program and the NAS report.

The sole witness to provide testimony was G. Tracy Mehan, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Water.  Mehan described EPA's re-evaluation of the July 2000 rule and told the subcommittee that the agency plans to propose a new rule to comprehensively amend the TMDL program by the spring of 2002, and "promulgate a final rule before April 30, 2003."  In designing the new rule, EPA plans to provide states and tribes with "greater flexibility" and the ability to utilize market-based approaches, such as water pollution trading and economic incentives for early reductions, to minimize the cost of implementation.  Mehan suggested that the TMDL program could be better served "through EPA support of State efforts in a framework that recognizes the need for flexibility to accommodate various effective approaches that States may wish to employ."  EPA's rulemaking strategy also includes a series of listening sessions to gather ideas from the public on how to improve the TMDL program.  Mehan reported that the final session is to take place in Washington, D.C., on December 11, 2001.

Another issue touched on by Mehan was implementation of TMDLs once completed.  The July 2000 rule called for states to submit implementation plans for approval by EPA.  If the agency disapproved of a state TMDL, it would have to adopt an implementation program.  According to Mehan, this presents a problem because "in many cases EPA does not have the breadth of authority outside the CWA that states may have to accomplish implementation."  He then reinforced his assertion that "market-based programs like trading in TMDL implementation strategies" offers the best solution and benefits water quality and the economy.

In response to NAS recommendations, Mehan said that EPA is taking steps to strengthen state monitoring programs so that more timely information is available to states to aid their decision making.  Mehan declared that "states should be able to monitor more of their waters, and be in a better position to determine if all their waters are meeting standards."  He also said that EPA would like to ensure that states' Section 305(b) water quality reports and Section 303(d) impaired water lists are consistent and use the best quality data.  He made it clear that the agency would step in and set TMDLs for states that fail to do it on their own.  However, when asked who should have the authority to set standards and implement them, Mehan answered that the authority should be primarily in the states.

The current TMDL program operates under the regulations adopted in 1985 and 1992, and in some states, under consent decrees, court orders, or settlement agreements resulting from litigation.  Over 20,000 water bodies in the U.S. have been identified as impaired.  Mehan promised that under the current program, EPA "will continue progress in improving water quality nationwide" while developing a proposed TMDL rule that will be more "workable, effective, and acceptable."

For full text of written testimony, see the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment website.


Hearing on H.R. 3178 and the Development of Anti-Terrorism Tools for Water Infrastructure
House Science Committee
November 14, 2001

Hearing Summary
House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) opened the hearing by announcing that it was the fourth in a series of hearings on terrorism.  He called this hearing to address the security of the nation's water supply and sewage systems, which are vulnerable to bioterrorism, cyberterrorism, and the threat of explosions involving volatile chemicals.  Boehlert believes that in the long-run only a focused research and development plan will enable the nation to successfully guard against terrorism.  He described his legislation, H.R. 3178, as an "important first step in ensuring that we have the R&D our nation needs to combat threats to our nation's water and sewage systems."  H.R. 3178 would provide $12 million dollars per year for five years to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund research and development grants on how to prevent, detect, and respond to physical and cyber threats to the nation's water supply infrastructure.

The first of four witnesses to provide testimony on the panel was the Director of the New York State Office of Public Security James K. Kallstrom.  He expressed New York's strong support for H.R. 3178 because it would contribute greatly to the state's long-term plans to protect valuable drinking water supplies and clean water infrastructure.  EPA could fund research through the bill that would help find new means to protect the drinking water supplies at more than 4,000 community water systems serving about 17 million New Yorkers daily.  Kallstrom reported that since September 11th, all water systems in New York have been on alert and feel "well prepared to avoid a catastrophic terrorist attack."  He did, however, describe a need to improve analytical testing methodologies to identify possible biochemical threats and enable a rapid response.

Richard Luthy, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and chair of the National Research Council's (NRC) Water Science and Technology Board, explained how the nation's water systems may be vulnerable to intentional acts, what actions should be taken, and what research should be done to better protect and improve the water system infrastructure.  Luthy identified dams, aquaducts, and pumping stations that capture and convey water over long distances as being especially vulnerable to physical damage.  He went on to discuss how small quantities of toxic chemicals could cause panic and great economic disruption, even if they are not directly harmful.  "Something added to water does not have to be toxic; merely introducing taste or odor would be very disruptive if the goal is fear and anxiety," he said.  According to Luthy, the nation's top priorities should be protecting physical structures for water storage that serve large populations, and maintaining water quality through better monitoring, new treatments, and the incorporation of multiple barriers.  In closing, Luthy referred to H.R. 3178 as a step in the right direction, but added that "the appropriation request of $12 million is inadequate" and suggested a minimum amount of $50 million.

Jeffrey Danneels, department manager of the Sandia National Laboratory's Security Systems and Technology Center, was the third witness to support H.R. 3178, calling it "the cornerstone of an effective R&D program."  Danneels requested that the bill provide funding for the following efforts:  the security risk assessment methodology for water systems, new security technologies, real-time monitoring, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) protection, and advanced treatment techniques.  He reported that the goal of Sandia National Laboratory is to " make water infrastructure an unattractive target for terrorism."  In order to accomplish this, Danneels suggested the development and installation of early warning monitoring capabilities, re-evaluation of the current method by which water is treated and delivered, and development of a range of options for utilities to choose how to best improve their systems.  He also mentioned the importance of public education and training of water systems designers, operators, and vendors to the overall success of the program.

The last witness on the panel was the general manager for the District of Columbia's Water and Sewer Authority, Jerry Johnson, who spoke on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA).  The main point of Johnson's testimony was that practical research is absolutely necessary to anticipate potential terrorist scenarios.  He addressed the need for more knowledge on the characteristics of possible biological and chemical toxins, instantaneous and online probes to detect those contaminants, and preventative actions to neutralize them.  According to Johnson, H.R. 3178 is needed "if we expect EPA to make terrorism prevention and response a high priority in the future."

A question and answer session following the panel's testimony brought up various ideas for alternatives to the nation's current water infrastructure.  Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) called it "silly" to water lawns, flush toilets, and fight fires with drinking water.  He then suggested that Congress push for in-house water recycling, an idea that sparked comments from Danneels concerning the unsustainability of the current system.  According to Danneels, 99 percent of treated water is not consumed and this is an unacceptable operation for the long-term.  Another interesting idea came from Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) who asked the panel if it is possible to create a "two-tiered water system" that would deliver drinking water through separate pipes.  Luthy's answer was that it would be "horrendously expensive" to alter the current infrastructure in such way.  Danneels called it an "excellent suggestion" that would require more research, but that it might be better to just move toward smaller, community based water systems.

Full text of written testimony can be found at the House Science Committee's website.


Hearing on arsenic in drinking water: an update on the science, benefits and cost
House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards
October 4, 2001

Hearing Summary
The hearing opened with statements from Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards.  Ehlers introduced the issue of arsenic in drinking water as being a very controversial but significant topic that "highlights the importance of using science as the basis of important public health and environmental decisions."   He hoped that the hearing would explain the risk that arsenic poses to Americans, how science defines that risk, and how to best protect America from it.

The first three witnesses presented the major findings and recommendations of three reports commissioned by EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman in response to 10 ppb standard for arsenic in drinking water that was set by the last administration in January 2001.  Dr. Robert Goyer, Chair of the National Research Council (NRC) Subcommittee to Update the 1999 Arsenic in Drinking Water Report, summarized the findings of Arsenic in Drinking Water: 2001 Update.  This new report is consistent with the 1999 report, concluding that "chronic arsenic exposure is associated with increases in bladder and lung cancer and may be associated with additional health impacts."  The risks, however, are greater than previously estimated.  The report also determined that the Taiwanese studies of arsenic exposure are adequate to determine risk.

Dr. Maureen Cropper, Chair of the EPA Science Advisory Board's Arsenic Rule Benefits Review Panel (ARBRP), provided testimony on Arsenic Rule Benefits Analysis: An SAB Review.  According to Cropper, the panel found that the EPA did not adequately include or measure the impacts of latency or cessation-lag in its benefits analysis.  She recommended that the benefits and costs be broken down by system size because the drinking water treatment costs per household are larger in smaller systems and, therefore, the cost-benefit ratios are smaller for small systems than for large ones.  Cropper also suggested implementing regulatory alternatives rather than treating all water to the same standard required level.  If the standard must be uniform, however, the ARBRP would suggest financial aid to help small systems.

John Scheltens represented NDWAC, which submitted Report on the Arsenic Cost Working Group to the National Drinking Water Advisory Committee.  This report reviewed the cost estimates of implementing the arsenic rule and provided three major recommendations: how to improve the current national cost estimate, how future cost estimates can be done, and affordability of rulemaking.  Sheltens suggested creating a "Sustainability Fund" that would be a source of continued revenue to smaller systems so that they could meet the drinking water quality standards when levels are reduced.  This would be an extension of Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF fund) of 1996.

The last three witnesses were Dr. Barbara Beck, representing the National Mining Association, the National Wood Preservers Institute, and the National Rural Water Association, Scott Rubin, attorney and consultant for the National Rural Water Association; and Erik Olson, senior attorney for the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).  Beck criticized the NRC report for selecting the linear "no-threshold" model based on policy, not science.  She said that the agency needs to explore non-linear dose models and further evaluate data from the Taiwan study.  Rubin criticized the EPA's approach to evaluating whether small systems could afford to comply with a reduced arsenic standard.  He provided a list of recommendations for the EPA including a reasonable and realistic threshold for affordability, and evaluation of the public health consequences of "tradeoffs" that low-income households would have to make so that they could pay higher water bills.  On the other side of the issue was Olsen, who found the EPA's cost estimates to be credible, and suggested lowering the standard even further to 3 ppb.

Full text of written testimony can be found at the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards website


Hearing on the National Research Council Report assessing the scientific basis of the Total Maximum Daily Load approach to water pollution reduction
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
June 28, 2001

The Bottom Line
On June 28th, the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on the recent National Research Council (NRC) report, Assessing the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Approach to Water Quality Management.  TMDL, established under the 1972 Clean Water Act, is the amount by which sources of pollution need to be reduced in order to comply with state standards. The program was developed to deal with point sources pollutants.  Measuring and determining evaluation standards for non-point source pollutants was one issue addressed in the NRC report.  The report also reviewed current TMDL standards and procedures, then provided recommendations for clearer and more accurate methods to assess and remediate polluted bodies of water.

Hearing Summary
Chairman John Duncan (R-TN) opened the hearing by outlining the TMDL issues that prompted the NRC report.  States often have difficulty developing realistic water quality standards for multiple pollutants in bodies of water.  Also, there is often not enough information for most states to accurately determine the TMDL.  This lack of information can lead to minimal action to improve the water quality.

Dr. Kenneth Reckhow, Professor at Duke University and chairman of the NRC Division on Earth and Life Studies, Water Science and Technology Board, reported on the findings of the report.  He was accompanied by Dr. Leonard Shadman, Professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and member of the research committee.

The main message Reckhow highlighted from the report was that there is currently enough "scientific capability to identify the polluted waters and develop plans for their cleanup."  Reckhow explained that "The current scientific knowledge and techniques are sufficient to proceed with the TMDL program."  The report recommendations on how the EPA and states could improve the programs include a better statistical method to account for uncertainty and a two-step process to asses and evaluate contaminated water.  Under the current system, identified polluted waters are put on "303d" lists by the states.  The states then use established TMDLs to develop a cleanup plan.  This system often causes problems because information on the bodies of water, pollutants and sources are limited.  Therefore, general or quick evaluations place many polluted waters on the 303d lists indefinitely, with few plans of having them cleaned.  The proposed system will set up an intermediate list on which to place polluted waters while a more extensive assessment of the pollutant(s) takes place.  The information gained will determine the fate of the water, which may include adding it to the 303d list.  This process will encourage more information to be gathered and more time to organize the clean up assessment system.

Finally, Reckhow emphasized the importance of research to continually expand the foundation of knowledge to enhance the effectiveness of clean up programs.  The "one-size-fits-all" approach with TMDL does not work because of the diversity of pollutants.  Also, point-source pollutants (leaking buried tanks) behave differently from non-point source pollutants (surface spills).

The question and answer period focused on determining and defining standards in different states.  Overall, the committee members seemed supportive of the report and recommendations, and pledged to improve water quality through pollution assessment and clean up.


Sources:  Congressional Hearing Testimony, Congressional Research Service, E&E Daily News, Greenwire, National Research Council.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by AGI/AAPG Government Affairs Spring 2001 Intern Mary H. Patterson; AGI/AIPG Summer 2001 Interns Michelle Williams and Caetie Ofiesh; AGI/AAPG Fall Semester 2001 Intern Catherine Macris; and AGI/AIPG Summer 2002 Intern Sarah Riggen.

Posted March 8, 2001; Last Updated June 17, 2002

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