EPA Agrees to Revisit Rules for Polluted Runoff

Federal court sets deadlines to address major sources of water pollution
EPA Agrees to Revisit Rules for Polluted Runoff
In a 2003, a federal court ordered EPA to correct and strengthen urban runoff rules for communities with populations under 100,000.

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A federal court has approved a settlement in which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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 the 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 in a press release. “We welcome the administration’s commitment to act, and we will work to ensure the 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 the 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, the 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 the EPA's agreement to set firm deadlines to address such runoff.”

The settlement does not address the substance of regulations but sets timelines for the 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
"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. 

The court order requires the 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
“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. The EPA has identified many effective pollution control measures to solve this problem – such as identifying special areas for protection including wetlands and streamside 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 the 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 the EPA proceed to develop appropriate pollution control rules.

Photo "Stormwater culvert along Dobeny Avenue" by Bidgee is licensed under CC BY 3.0


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