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Summary of Hearings on Clean Water (7-24-03)

  • June 19, 2003: House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Hearing on the Need to Update Water Quality Standards to Improve Clean Water Act Programs.
  • July 16, 2003: Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia hearing on "Great Lakes Restoration Management: No Direction, Unknown Progress."

US Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management,
the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia

Great Lakes Restoration Management: No Direction, Unknown Progress
July 16, 2003

Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH)
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)
John Stephenson, Director of Natural Resources and Environment Issues, General Accounting Office
Robyn Thorson, Region III Director, US Fish and Wildlife Service
Thomas Skinner, Region V Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
William E. Ryan, III, Deputy Commander, Great Lakes Ohio River Division, Army Corps of Engineers
Timothy Keeney, Deputy Assistant Secretary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Dennis L. Schornack, Chairman, US Section, International Joint Commission
Susan Garrett, State Senator, Illinois
Chris Jones, Director, Environmental Protection Agency, State of Ohio, on behalf of the Council of Great Lakes Governors
Margaret Wooster, Executive Director, Great Lakes United

On July 16, 2003, the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia held a hearing to discuss and the Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act (S. 1398) and a General Accounting Office (GAO) report assessing current Great Lakes restoration projects. GAO's John Stephenson gave his testimony on the report, which was released in April 2003. The GAO found that the numerous restoration projects in the Great Lakes basin are too broad and are only concerned with regional problems. The report also said that the progress of the restoration projects is hard to assess due to an insufficient amount of monitoring systems. The GAO recommends that the EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) fulfill it responsibilities to coordinate an overarching strategy and to develop an adequate monitoring system.

The Subcommittee also heard testimony from the EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These agencies reported on their activities in the Great Lakes basin. Subcommittee Chair George Voinovich (R-OH) asked the panel who directed their collective activities. Voinovich's question was met with silence.

Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Carl Levin (D-MI) gave their testimony on S. 1398, which was introduced to address the concerns raised by the GAO report. The Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act is a bi-partisan bill co-sponsored by senators from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio. The bill would provide $6 billion over ten years and establish an advisory board composed of federal, state, local, and tribal entities to set the priorities of the restoration projects. S. 1398 would also give GLNPO the responsibility of coordinating the projects. The legislation is similar to restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades. Voinovich, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, asked the witnesses if the EPA should be the leader of these projects. Most of witnesses agreed that the EPA was in a good position to lead the coordinating effort. Chris Jones said that the EPA could coordinate the projects but the Governors of the Great Lakes states should set the priorities.


US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

The Need to Update Water Quality Standards to Improve Clean Water Act Programs
June 19, 2003

John B. Stephenson, Director, National Resources and Environment, U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO)
Linda Eichmiller, Deputy Director, Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators
Kathleen M. Chavez, P.E., Director, Pima County Wastewater Management Department
Ken Farfsing, City Manager, City of Signal Hill, Coalition for Practical Regulation

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on June 19, 2003, to receive testimony concerning the need to update water quality standards to improve the effectiveness of Clean Water Act (CWA) programs. Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-TN) opened the hearing by declaring that in many states, water quality standards are inappropriate for the designated uses of certain water bodies, resulting in mismatches between resource allocations and water quality priorities that have lessened the effectiveness of the CWA.

The panel's testimony indicated their general agreement on the existence of this problem. John Stephenson reported that the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that 30 states would have different water bodies designated for cleanup if the process of modifying standards - either through changing designated uses or modifying criteria - were improved. Testimony from Ken Farfsing and Kathleen Chavez illustrated two specific examples of the need for such changes. Farfsing complained that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pressure has resulted in municipal storm sewer systems being regulated as fishable and swimmable waters, which he said was unrealistic and unnecessary. Chavez explained how the unique hydrological conditions of the arid west call for amendments to the CWA that would allow arid western states to develop regional and site-specific water quality criteria and standards.

Much of the substantive discussion concerned the obstacles that prevent states from modifying designated uses, criteria, and standards. Duncan pointed out that many in the public equate changing standards with relaxing standards, and asked Farfsing to explain why it made sense not to clean up storm-water canals to the level of fishable and swimmable use. Farfsing replied with a recurring theme, that prioritization is needed to ensure that waters actually used for fishing and swimming are given adequate resources. Representative Gene Taylor (D-MS) clashed with Farfsing over the call to relax water quality standards for storm-water, pointing out that allowing these waters to remain dirty would ultimately pollute downstream waters. Farfsing contended that it was impossible to regulate runoff from car-washing and landscaping, though Linda Eichmiller suggested that such behavior changes by the public would be needed for a comprehensive solution.

Barriers cited for preventing states from making needed changes include:

  • expenses from use-change application paperwork and water-quality monitoring
  • lack of guidance and consistency from EPA
  • two-year delays and denials of change requests by EPA
  • lack of solid data on which to base defensible criteria changes
  • public perception that changing standards equals decreasing protections
  • Despite these obstacles, Eichmiller remained optimistic that the situation was improving, noting that progress was being made in streamlining the process. She emphasized that close collaboration between stakeholders and EPA would greatly improve states' ability to update their standards.


    Sources: Hearing testimony.

    Contributed by Brett T. Beaulieu and Deric R. Learman AGI/AIPG Summer 2003 Intern.

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

    Last updated on July 24, 2003

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