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 rivers.
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 proposal.
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