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Final Withdrawal of 2000 TMDL Takes Effect; Existing Rules Make Progress Cleaning Up Impaired Wates

Release Date: 03/13/2003
Contact Information:

John Millett 202-564-7842/

(03/13/03) In an action strongly supported by agriculture, forestry, states, industry, and the U.S. Congress, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman today withdrew a controversial rule that would have revised EPA’s program for cleaning up impaired waters – the July 2000 final Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) rule. The 2000 rule was determined to be unworkable based on reasons described by more than 34,000 comments 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) found numerous drawbacks with the July 2000 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 said. “Unfortunately, the 2000 rule, designed to implement the TMDL program, fell short of that goal and others. 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.”

An overwhelming majority of comments (more than 90 percent) supported EPA=s proposed action to withdraw the July 2000 rule. These comments came from a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including agricultural and forestry groups, business and industry entities and trade associations, state agencies, professional associations, academic groups and private citizens.

The Clean Water Act requires states to identify waters not meeting water quality standards and to develop plans for cleaning them up. The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program provides a process for determining pollution budgets for the nation’s waters that, once implemented, will assure that Clean Water Act goals will be met.

EPA is continuing efforts to improve the TMDL program in order to further enhance the quality of the nation’s waters. In 2001 and 2002 combined, more than 5,000 TMDLs were approved or established under the current TMDL 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 TMDL 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.