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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 3:09 pm | Fair 69º

 
 
 
 
Advice

EPA Agrees to Revisit Rules for Polluted Runoff by Next Year

A federal court has approved a settlement in which the Environmental Protection Agency will update its national regulations for stormwater runoff, one of the nation’s largest sources of water pollution, by November 2016.   

The EPA agreed to the deadline after the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Center filed a lawsuit last year to force the agency to act, more than a decade after a federal court had first ordered EPA to do so.

“This settlement puts an end to more than a decade of foot-dragging on a huge water pollution problem,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Larry Levine. “We welcome the administration’s commitment to act, and we will work to ensure EPA develops new rules that reflect a more modern, green technology approach to protecting the waters where we fish, swim and drink.”

In a 2003 case brought by NRDC and EDC, Environmental Defense Center v. EPA, a federal court ordered EPA to correct and strengthen urban runoff rules for communities with populations under 100,000. 

The 2003 ruling also ordered the EPA to make a science-based determination of whether polluted runoff from forest roads is so severe that national pollution control standards are necessary. 

In response to a new lawsuit NRDC and EDC filed last December with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, EPA conceded that it had failed to implement the earlier court order. The agency agreed to strict deadlines to comply. 

“We are pleased that the clean water victory NRDC and EDC achieved over a decade ago will finally be realized,” said Maggie Hall, staff attorney for EDC. “Stormwater runoff continues to be one of our nation's most widespread forms of water pollution, and we applaud EPA's agreement to set firm deadlines to address such runoff.”

The settlement does not address the substance of regulations but sets timelines for EPA to take action on two types of stormwater pollution that pose a significant threat to public health, fish and wildlife and recreation.

"Urban runoff” is the dirty water that runs off roads, parking lots and other hard surfaces in cities and suburbs after rainstorms and snowmelt, carrying toxic metals, pesticides, excess nutrients and harmful bacteria into waters nationwide. 

It causes beach closings around the country every year, and fouls tens of thousands of miles of streams and hundreds of thousands of acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs. 

Improved EPA regulations should drive greater use of green infrastructure solutions — like porous pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings and rain gardens — that stop rain where it falls, before it can wash pollution from dirty streets to our rivers and beaches. 

EPA’s current rules allow most communities to set their own pollution control standards without meaningful oversight, resulting in lax pollution control measures that the National Research Council has deemed a failure.

The court order requires EPA to update its stormwater permitting rules with a proposed rule by Dec. 17, 2015 and a final rule by Nov. 17, 2016.

“Forest road runoff” is the sediment-laden runoff from forest roads that threatens drinking water supplies and kills fish and other aquatic life. Road construction and road use are the main sources of this pollution on forested lands.

EPA has identified many effective pollution control measures to solve this problem — such as identifying special areas for protection including wetlands and stream-side vegetation, limiting forestry activities to certain times of the year and designing roads, construction and maintenance to reduce and control sediment in runoff, but the agency does not currently require that any of them be used.  

The court order requires EPA to decide by May 2016 whether regulation of forest road runoff is necessary to protect water quality. If the agency determines forest road runoff must be regulated, the Clean Water Act requires that EPA proceed to develop appropriate pollution control rules.   

For more background on the case, visit http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/llevine/clean_water_delayed_is_clean_w.html.

— Betsy Weber is the communications director for the Environmental Defense Center.

 

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