Washington News

March 6, 2003

EPA Sets Water Quality Trading Policy

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has adopted a Water Quality Trading Policy that Administrator Christie Whitman said will reduce industrial, municipal and agricultural discharges into the nation's waterways.

The new approach, she said "will result in cleaner water at less cost and in less time" while imposing accountability.

Trading has been the subject of pilot programs and some state initiatives for several years, but EPA is now moving to establish it as a major national water policy.

Under a trading approach, an operation that exceeded requirements on pollution elimination would create credits that it could sell to another entity that had not met its goals.

As Whitman described her agency's plan, "It allows one source to meet its regulatory obligations by using pollutant reductions created by another source that has lower pollution control costs. The standards remain the same, but efficiency is increased and costs are decreased."

She noted that before a water quality trade could take place, a pollution-reduction "credit" first must be created.

The policy states that sources should reduce pollution loads beyond the level required by the most stringent water quality-based requirements in order to create a pollution reduction "credit" that can be traded. Additional information on the policy is available at    www.epa.gov/owow/watershed/ trading.htm

WEF Endorses Trading Plan

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) endorsed EPA's Trading Policy, terming it "a positive step towards recognizing trading as a tool to achieve water quality improvements."

WEF said the policy was designed to "encourage states, interstate agencies and tribes to develop and implement voluntary water quality trading programs that facilitate implementation of TMDLs, reduce the costs of compliance with Clean Water Act regulations, establish incentives for voluntary reductions and promote watershed-based initiatives." WEF cited "the Policy's emphasis on watersheds and cooperation between point and nonpoint sources."

Vulnerability Assessments Are Protected

EPA has issued instructions to help drinking water utilities submit security self-assessments to the agency in a secure manner.

The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 requires community drinking-water systems that serve more than 3,300 people to submit vulnerability assessments and certify completion of emergency response plans to EPA.

The deadlines for submission of the assessments is March 31, 2003 for drinking water systems serving 100,000 or more people; Dec. 31, 2003 for systems serving 50,000-99,999 people; and June 30, 2004 for systems serving 3,301-49,999 people.

Once a drinking water system certifies completion of its vulnerability assessment to EPA, it has six months to certify completion of its emergency response plan.

Further information is available at www.epa.gov/safewater/security. A section labeled "New" under "Vulnerability Assessment Tools" contains instructions for compliance with submission requirements. EPA said, "These instructions to utilities and our secure information handling procedures demonstrate EPA's resolve to protect this vital information prepared by water utilities."

Watershed-Permitting Plan Moving Ahead

Over the next 12 months EPA plans to develop guidance on different aspects of the watershed-based permitting approach it is adopting as a major initiative. The guidance will cover general implementation issues, technical tools and approaches and procedural considerations.

G. Tracy Mehan III, assistant EPA administrator for water, discussed the plans in a recent policy statement that expanded on a directive that he issued in December.

The newest statement lists various mechanisms for watershed permitting that Mehan describes as "a process that ultimately produces National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits that are issued to point sources on a geographic or watershed basis."

In many states that have adopted a watershed approach, he noted, the most common approach is to reissue NPDES permits on a five-year, rotating basin schedule. Each source receives an individual permit with permits related to basins.

Other potential approaches, Mehan said, include a general permit for common sources such as publicly owned treatment works; a general permit for collective sources that would be similar to permits for industrial stormwater discharges; individual permits covering several point sources, and an integrated municipal permit covering all NPDES requirements for a municipality. Other approaches will be considered as the permit system evolves, Mehan said.  

Agency Cites Progress Against Acid Rain

EPA reports a "large and widespread decrease" in acid rain falling into lakes and streams of the northeastern and upper midwestern sections of the country.

The amount of wet sulfate deposition, also known as acidic precipitation, dropped 40 percent in the decade of the 1990s, the agency said.

The report added that EPA's Acid Rain Program "has achieved more emission reductions at a faster pace and lower cost than originally expected."        

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Robert Gray

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