Dec 28, 2000

EPA Runoff Regulations Concern Agriculture

WASHINGTON, D.C.--In a public show of division in the Clinton administration,
the Agriculture Department is raising concerns about a plan to reduce pollution
from farms and logging operations.
The Environmental Protection Agency needs to clarify the rules it is
proposing and determine how much they will cost landowners, Agriculture
Secretary Dan Glickman told the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.
"Farmers demand clarity. . . . What they don't need is more
uncertainty," he said.
EPA in August proposed to require states to submit plans within 15 years to
clean up every waterway that fails to meet water quality standards. The agency
estimates that there are more than 20,000 streams and lakes that don't meet
water-quality standards, including long sections of the Mississippi and Colorado
Glickman disavowed a letter that a senior USDA official sent to EPA last fall
questioning the agency's legal authority to regulate farm runoff and other
indirect sources of water pollution. EPA has until now concentrated on
regulating direct sources such as pollution from factories and sewage plants.
But Glickman said he still had concerns about the plan, including the lack of
a comprehensive cost estimate The rules are "very complex and would present
a challenge to any expert on the issue," Glickman said.
They also should make it clear that regulators will take into account steps
farmers have taken to limit runoff such as planting trees along a stream.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who appeared before the committee alongside
Glickman, emphasized that it would be up to each state to decide how to meet the
reductions in pollutants required by their plans. She said the agency's proposal
was a "very, very sensible way to do the final work to ensure clean water
for everyone in this country."
States have primary responsibility for identifying streams that fall short of
water quality standards and making plans to clean them up under the 1972 Clean
Water Act. From 1972 to 1998, states only approved 1,000 of the 40,000
runoff-control plans that are needed, EPA said.
Landowners would be required to get a pollution discharge permit only if the
agency found they were contributing to nearby water quality problems and only if
a state had failed to draft an adequate plan for improving water quality, the
agency said.
Some congressional Democrats also have expressed concern about EPA's
Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln, D-Ark., introduced legislation earlier this
month that would prohibit EPA from regulating runoff from private logging
operations. She said it should be left up to states to decide whether to
regulate such pollution.
The EPA plan would "get us nowhere closer to a cleaner environment than
we would get from a voluntary program," Lincoln said.
SOURCE: The Associated Press