106th CONGRESS

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES REPORT

2nd Session YY-ZZZ

  

CLEAN WATER AMENDMENTS OF 2000

  REPORT

OF THE

COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION

AND INFRASTRUCTURE

ON

H.R. 3256

 

January 24, 2000. Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union and ordered to be printed

PURPOSE AND SUMMARY

The purpose of the bill is to reauthorize and amend the Clean Water Act to provide a flexible, scientifically sound, and cost-effective basis on which to maintain and continue improvements in water quality.

NEED FOR LEGISLATION

The objective of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (referred to as the Clean Water Act, CWA, or Act) is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nations’s waters. The Act was last amended comprehensively in 1987 and most of its authorizations of appropriations expired in 1991. Funding has been provided through the annual appropriations process.

The Clean Water Act is a program that requires further direction from Congress. In general, it has worked well to provide the nation with clean, healthy water through a partnership among Federal, State and local governments and industry. However, much of the improvements in water quality achieved to date have been through the implementation of "end-of-pipe" controls on industrial and municipal point source dischargers. Additional regulation of these point sources is increasingly costly and achieves increasingly smaller marginal benefits.

Moreover, a majority of the remaining water quality problems in rivers, streams and lakes are caused by "wet weather flows," e.g., agricultural and urban runoff, and municipal and industrial storm sewer discharges. The urban streets, rural fields, and other sources that create this runoff problem are not amenable to traditional "end-of-pipe," "command-and-control" regulatory approaches. Accordingly, the current Act has not been able to effectively address the problems associated with such wet weather flows. Attempts to impose command-and-control approaches on wet weather flows have led to regulations or permits that require unattainable results or results that are attainable only at enormous costs, much of which will be borne by cities and towns.

The Committee heard extensive testimony about specific areas that need to be addressed through comprehensive Clean Water Act reauthorization legislation, including the need to (1) provide relief from unfunded mandates, (2) develop better approaches to control of pollution from nonpoint and stormwater runoff, (3) provide additional flexibility in implementation of the Act, (4) incorporate cost-benefits analysis into the standard setting process, and (5) comprehensively reform the regulatory process for permitting activities that take place in wetlands.

 

INCREASED EFFICIENCY, FLEXIBILITY AND FAIRNESS

Many parties have testified to the need to increase State and local flexibility to prevent the Act from imposing "one-size-fits all" standards and requirements that do not reflect regional and local differences. Flexibility, including the opportunity for more rational tailoring of standards and measures to the particular circumstances of a state, a locality or a particular group of dischargers, is necessary to achieve the greatest environmental benefits from scarce resources.

State organizations have communicated to the Committee the need to give states increased flexibility and a greater role in implementing the Act to allow States to address real risks in a more cost-effective manner.

The bill responds to these concerns in a variety of ways. It requires that EPA weigh the costs and benefits of Clean Water Act regulations before they are promulgated. It also prohibits the imposition of water quality standards on States where the costs of attaining such standards are not reasonably related to the benefits of attaining the standards. This will allow States and localities to establish water quality standards that make sense for particular communities and watersheds. The bill allows the States to set a schedule to achieve reasonable further progress toward meeting water quality standards by 2015. It also removes obsolete compliance dates for other requirements of the act.

The bill revises the criteria that guide EPA in setting limitations for toxic pollutants that are more stringent than the best available technology, to allow consideration of both beneficial and adverse social and economic effect. It further allows municipal treatment works to impose local pretreatment limits on facilities that introduce pollutants into the treatment works, in lieu of national categorical pretreatment standards, provided the treatment works demonstrates that it will remain in compliance with its effluent limits, sludge quality standards, air emissions limits, and all other applicable State requirements. Thus, the bill provides relief from otherwise redundant treatment that may occur if a facility must install equipment to meet national categorical pretreatment standards before discharging to a POTW that already has established local pretreatment limits to prevent pass-through of toxics and already adequately treats the indirect discharger’s waste.

The nonpoint source program discussed below also maximizes States’ flexibility to fashion their State programs to meet the national goal of attainment of water quality standards.

 

NONPOINT SOURCE DISCHARGES

Nonpoint source discharges include runoff from rural fields, urban streets, and other areas. During consideration of H.R. 3256, the Committee heard testimony stating that it is not feasible to collect and treat this runoff prior to discharge. Instead, the most effective method of control is the prevention of pollution in runoff through management practices and measures. However, causes and the nature of runoff are extremely site-specific. Accordingly, a top-down approach for the development and implementation of management practices and measures is not appropriate.

The bill strengthens the existing section 319 nonpoint source program by authorizing $2 billion over five years for State program grants.

The bill requires States to develop and implement nonpoint source management programs that must include goals and mile-stones for achieving water quality standards as soon as practicable but no later than 15 years from the date of program approval. If a State does not develop an approvable program, EPA must develop and implement a program for the State.

The bill requires EPA to develop guidance on model management practices and measures. The Committee expects, however, that States will work with conservation districts and other local groups to tailor management measures to best address specific situations and to rely first on voluntary measures. States also have the authority to require enforceable measures for the control of nonpoint source pollution. However, the bill expresses the belief that nonpoint source programs should be built upon a foundation of voluntary initiatives that represent the approach most likely to succeed in achieving the objectives of the Act.

 

WETLANDS

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act was originally designed to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into "navigable waters" at specified disposal sites. However, over time (and without significant change in statutory authority) the scope of the section 404 program, especially in terms of the types of activities regulated and the geographical extent of jurisdiction, expanded well beyond the original congressional intent. As a result of a myriad of judicial interpretations and administrative decisions, the program has become one of the most complex, controversial and burdensome aspects of the Clean Water Act. As a result, the program suffers from lack of public understanding, widespread opposition, and wide-ranging calls for reform.

At the same time, the nation has come to better understand and appreciate the benefits to the aquatic environment that could be achieved under section 404, especially through preservation of truly valuable wetlands functions. Unfortunately, the program as it now exists often results in extraordinary delays and costs; a disregard of private property rights; overzealous and inconsistent application by the government; a lack of public awareness of and input to changing government policies; and bickering among the Federal agencies running the program.

Title VIII of the bill will assure that the nation’s truly valuable aquatic resources are preserved and that regulatory burdens on activities that are recurring in nature and have minor impacts will be reduced or eliminated. Reforms include the following measures.

The fact that not all wetlands are of equal value will be taken into consideration in making regulatory decision. A high degree of protection will be given to the most valuable wetlands, but low value wetlands will not be subject to Federal permits. In fact, the type of activities occurring in wetlands that are regulated will actually be broadened to assure that valuable wetland resources are afforded a high degree of protection.

States will have expanded opportunities and incentive to assume all or part of the program and State and local resource management programs will be given greater weight.

Private property owners will receive compensation where the regulation of activities in wetlands significantly diminishes the value of their property. Right to compensation will assure that public benefits are not provided at substantial private expense.

Procedural reforms, agency disclosure requirements, and administrative appeals will streamline the process, assure better public understanding and opportunity for input, and assure better fairness to applicants.

Existing provisions intended to minimize or exempt minor, routine activities will be updated and expanded.

Management of the program will be concentrated in a single agency for increased consistency, expedited reviews, and accountability.

 

 

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