TESTIMONY OF CAROL M. BROWNER
CAROL M. BROWNER
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
May 13, 1999
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. I am Carol M. Browner, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thank you for your invitation to be here today and for the opportunity to discuss the Clean Water Action Plan announced by President Clinton and Vice President Gore in February of last year.
The Action Plan is a comprehensive blueprint for restoring and protecting the Nation's water resources. It truly charts a course for fulfilling the original goal of the Clean Water Act: "fishable and swimmable" waters for all Americans.
.I. Water Quality Problems Today
Past Progress and Current Problems
In the first quarter century of implementing the Clean Water Act, America has made tremendous strides in cleaning up its rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. In particular the Clean Water Act has stopped billions of pounds of pollution from fouling the nation's water, greatly increasing the number of waterways safe for fishing and swimming.
In communities across the country, restoration of local water resources has had dramatic environmental, recreational, aesthetic and economic benefits. Restoring clean water has generated jobs and economic growth in recreation (including swimming, boating, sport fishing and hunting), tourism, and commercial fishing and shellfishing industries, among others.
Despite great progress, nearly 40 percent of the nation's waterways assessed by states are still unsafe for fishing and swimming, and between 70 thousand to 90 thousand acres of wetlands are lost each year. Although pollution from factories and sewage treatment plants, soil erosion, and wetland losses have been dramatically reduced, the states identify runoff from city streets, rural areas, and other sources degrading the environment and putting drinking water at risk. We continue to lose wetlands each year. Although the causes of some problems have been abated, the consequences may still persist. Much of our historical wetlands have been lost, and sediments contaminated with toxic runoff and discharges decades ago now contaminate fish and complicate dredging our ports.
After careful consideration of these problems the Administration concluded that without the Clean Water Action Plan, implementation of the existing clean water programs would not stop serious new threats to public health, living resources, and the nation's waterways, particularly from polluted runoff. These programs did not have the adequate strength, resources, and framework to finish the job of restoring rivers, lakes, and coastal areas.
Addressing Today's Problems: Overview of the Clean Water Action Plan
In order to energize and re-orient existing programs to address current and future pollution problems, and thereby fulfill the original goals of the Clean Water Act, USDA and EPA, along with the Department of the Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Commerce Department's National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as supporting agencies created the Clean Water Action Plan (The Clean Water Action Plan: Restoring and Protecting America's Waters, February 1998).
The Action Plan aims to achieve healthy waters through collaborative public and private sector efforts on a watershed basis, as well as through strengthening and expanding our existing clean water programs, to:
- protect public health;
- enhance natural resources stewardship;
- strengthen polluted runoff standards and controls; and
- improve information and citizens' right to know.
As a framework for this collaboration, the Action Plan was developed through a cooperative budget planning effort by USDA and EPA, and the other lead agencies. The process for developing the Action Plan included a Federal Register notice soliciting public comment on what should be in it. The Federal agencies then held three "listening sessions" around the country to elicit public comment, and the agencies also had numerous informal meetings with a broad range of groups, including states, tribes, local governments, non-governmental organizations, and others.
In my remarks today, I want to highlight two aspects of the Action Plan that I believe exemplify the vision it provides for the diverse efforts to restore and protect water quality into the 21st century:
- the commitment to restore and protect water resources on a watershed basis; and
- the commitment to intergovernmental partnership in meeting water resource goals.
I also want to briefly raise some of our accomplishments over the past year and the major challenges we have before us.
II. Clean Water Action Plan: Key Themes
Watershed Approach: Led by States, Tribes, and Local Organizations
The causes of pollution problems affecting our waters can vary greatly from region-to-region and from watershed-to-watershed. A "one-size-fits-all" approach is not the most effective strategy for solving many of today's water resource problems.
A "watershed approach" to implementing clean water programs is at the heart of the Action Plan. The Plan lays out a vision for Federal agencies, in conjunction with state, tribal, local governments, and the private and public sectors, to tailor their efforts to the particular needs of individual watersheds, assessing the full range of clean water problems, and identifying solutions. Locally-led conservation, nurtured and supported by Federal and State resource conservation agencies, is a good example of a "watershed approach" envisioned by the Action Plan.
In addition, the Action Plan tackles problems, such as nutrient over-enrichment and sedimentation, that are widespread and contribute to interstate impairments. For each state or watershed council to try to tackle them in isolation would be neither efficient nor effective. Existing national authorities and programs need to help localized efforts address these problems, for example, through technical assistance, research, demonstrations, monitoring, public information, development of water quality criteria, effluent guidelines and permitting strategies. The Action Plan calls for strengthening these national tools.
The Action Plan envisions States and Tribes playing the lead role in conducting assessments to determine which watersheds are not meeting clean water goals, and then in identifying watersheds that are priorities for restoration through the development of Watershed Restoration Action Strategies. The Action Plan calls for broadly participatory efforts to address place-specific problems and define the unique solutions appropriate for each watershed. These watershed strategies are not to be top-down, Federal strategies. Existing Federal programs can then be focused on Watershed Restoration Action Strategies. For example, at EPA we will target the incremental Section 319 funds (an additional $100 million) to support development and implementation of Action Strategies in priority watersheds.
Successful models of public-private partnerships for watershed management can be found around the country in hundreds of smaller watersheds, as well as in such nationally-visible places as the Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes, and in more than 2 dozen estuaries designated under the National Estuary Program established by section 320 of the Clean Water Act. In EPA's Adopt-Your-Watershed program, we have identified more than 4,000 groups working to protect and restore their watersheds.
For all watersheds, regardless of their degree of impairment, the Action Plan identifies ways in which the Federal agencies can help locally-led groups work to help ensure clean water and a healthy watershed. For example, the internet-based Watershed Information Network (WIN), a coordinated, multi-agency undertaking, will allow the public to access consolidated watershed information. At EPA we are also awarding "watershed assistance grants" to some community organizations, similar to the technical assistance grants under the superfund program, to support local involvement in designing and implementing solutions.
The second critical aspect of the Action Plan which I'd like to emphasize is the inter-governmental coordination that it has engendered. We are working smarter, avoiding duplication, and getting the most out of programs and resources thanks to the Action Plan.
Cooperation Across Federal Agencies
Coordination across the Federal agencies has been extraordinary in both the development and implementation of the Action Plan.
At the national level, teams composed of representatives from various agencies cooperate closely to carry out the Plan's action items, and senior managers of the nine Action Plan partner agencies provide oversight and direction to the overall Action Plan implementation. These managers and staff are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about each others' programs, and they are making decisions about how their programs can work together cooperatively.
In addition to this interagency cooperation at the national level, twelve Federal Coordination Teams have been established at the "regional" level, with representatives from the nine partner agencies, and others, to help in Action Plan implementation. Their role is two-fold: (1) to help coordinate federal activities in specific watersheds and (2) to identify resources (funding, data, technical expertise, etc) that can help other levels of government and citizen groups addressing water issues on a watershed basis.
State and Tribal Partnerships
As the Federal agencies implement the Action Plan, we're reaching out to other levels of government, but especially to States and Tribes, because of the lead role they play in clean water programs - - and we've been seeing a cooperative response. Indeed, the Action Plan asked States and Tribes to take the lead in a cornerstone of the Action Plan: the development of Unified Watershed Assessments. Through their assessments, the States and Tribes identify degraded water bodies and determine which of their watersheds are priorities for watershed restoration efforts. We are very pleased to note that each of the 50 states submitted Unified Watershed Assessments by the end of 1998, as did many Tribes. States are now developing workplans for the new $100 million in Section 319 funds to support Watershed Restoration Action Strategies in those watersheds.
Involvement of the Public and Stakeholders
The Federal agencies responsible for Action Plan implementation are committed to involving other levels of government, special units of government, such as conservation districts and regional councils of governments, and the public in carrying out individual action items in the Action Plan.
Each of the Action Plan's 12 Federal Coordination Teams will help sponsor "roundtables" - - forums for bringing diverse stakeholders together to share information, experience, and expertise regarding watershed protection. All of the governmental agencies (federal, state, tribal, and local) can play key roles in these cooperative ventures, as can the general public, citizen groups, and the private sector. Likewise, EPA and the other Federal agencies encourage States and Tribes to work with other levels of government and with the public and private sector interests in the development of Watershed Restoration Action Strategies.
The public and private sectors also have opportunities to become involved in implementation of the rest of the Action Plan's 111 individual action items. The Federal agencies responsible for the Action Plan maintain a strong commitment to involving the public in these actions, whether the action items are regulatory or voluntary in nature. Regulatory actions will include appropriate notice and comment in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act. Beyond this, however, we are affording many opportunities to guide further implementation of the Action Plan. The Clean Water Action Plan web site (www.cleanwater.gov), a collaborative, cross-agency effort managed by the U.S. Geological Survey, provides regularly updated information on all key actions and opportunities for comment or other involvement.
III. Accomplishments and Challenges
Accomplishments of the First Year
We've only completed one year of the Clean Water Action Plan, but already a great deal has been accomplished at various levels of government. I'd like to mention just a few of these accomplishments:
1. Although I've already mentioned Unified Watershed Assessments, I want to emphasize their importance as a means to draw together the full range of available information on the health of watersheds and to set priorities for funding watershed restoration, USDA and EPA cooperated in providing guidance to States and Tribes for this action item. All 50 States and over 76 Tribal leaders rose to the challenge. We at EPA are grateful for their leadership.
2. An Interagency Emergency Response Plan developed by various Federal agencies including EPA and lead by NOAA, was issued last year to coordinate Federal assistance to state and local governments in response to outbreaks of harmful algal blooms, such as Pfiesteria. The plan guided our response to last year's pfiesteria outbreak in North Carolina, and it will continue to be refined and expanded.
3. An Action Plan for Beaches and Recreational Waters was issued by EPA in March 1999. It focuses on three key themes: (1) strengthening beach programs and water quality standards; (2) informing the public about recreational water quality; and (3) conducting research to improve the scientific basis for beach programs. One element of the plan, the BEACH WATCH web site, is a new Internet database listing beach closings and advisories. It contains the results of the first national Beach Health Protection Survey covering approximately 60 percent of coastal and Great Lakes beaches, and it will be supplemented in future iterations with information on the remaining coastal beaches and on in-land beaches. The next phase of the Beach Action Plan will integrate EPA activities with those of agencies such as NOAA, USGS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state environmental and public health departments.
4. USDA and EPA have cooperated in the development of an Animal Feeding Operations (AFO) Strategy announced on March 9th of this year to control polluted runoff from cattle, dairy, poultry, and hog farms. The strategy is aimed at reducing pollution while ensuring the long-term sustainability of livestock production. The strategy establishes a national expectation that all AFOs develop and implement comprehensive nutrient management plans by 2009. We estimate that 95 percent of all AFOs will be encouraged to implement management plans on a voluntary basis, while the remaining 5 percent will be required to develop management plans as part of a permit issued under the Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The AFOs requiring permits would be: the largest AFOs; AFOs with unacceptable conditions such as direct discharges; and AFOs that are significant contributors to water quality impairment in a watershed.
5. The Watershed Information Network (WIN), an interagency effort, is now operational on the Internet and accessible to the public as a prototype, either through the Clean Water Action Plan site maintained by USGS or through EPA's web site.. As a multi-agency road map to watershed programs and services, it can provide communities with information needed to help them protect and restore water quality.
6. The 5-Star Restoration Grants Program has attracted great attention from local community leaders. Over 300 applications, involving over 1,500 grassroots organizations in 47 states and from several tribes, have been received to compete for 40 grants under this 5-Star program. NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service has participated as a Federal partner for the grant recipients in coastal communities.
7. States and Territories are well positioned today to implement management measures needed to protect coastal waters from nonpoint source pollution. Most states have already received approval from EPA and NOAA for the majority of the management measures addressed by their Coastal Nonpoint Source Programs required by the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 (CZARA). Thus, they are eligible to use funds available under both the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act to help implement these measures. At the same time, we are working with the States and NOAA's National Ocean Service to secure final, complete approval for many of the state programs by the end of 1999. Even where full approval is not met by the end of the year, we expect significant improvement in their nonpoint programs as they work towards final approval.
8. In partnership with the River Network, EPA established the Watershed Assistance Grants Program to support the organizational development and long term effectiveness of locally-based watershed partnerships. Watershed Assistance Grants will be awarded to diverse partnerships who want to work together to assess the needs in their watersheds and devise creative, grassroots-grown solutions to the problems.
9. Many other accomplishments are highlighted in the report (entitled Clean Water Action Plan: the First Year; the Future) prepared to mark the first year anniversary of the Action Plan. I am attaching a copy of this report as a source of information on the many accomplishments, and future plans, of all the Federal agencies cooperating and coordinating in the Action Plan's implementation.
Challenges for the Future
The Clean Water Action Plan provides a vision of clean water and healthy ecosystems. By focusing on restoration and protection of watersheds we can more effectively implement clean water programs. By continuing to support partnerships across all levels of government, and with other stakeholders, we can foster enhanced stewardship of the Nation's waters. We have accomplished a great deal in one year, but much important work remains to be done.
Under the Action Plan, there are many specific actions which pose their own unique challenges. A few examples of these challenges include:
- States and tribes, with the support of Federal agencies and our other public and private partners, face the challenge of getting Watershed Restoration Action Strategies developed and implemented.
- USDA and EPA have issued the Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations, but now we, along with states, face the challenge of implementing this largely voluntary program, while also issuing permits as appropriate.
- EPA has prepared a strategy for development and implementation of nutrient criteria and standards tailored to specific needs of different types of water bodies. We now must coordinate across several Federal agencies and work with scientists to prepare guidance and criteria, and then assist states and tribes in the adoption of the criteria into their water quality standards.
Additionally, as we work on these and the other specific action items, we face challenges for the overall management of Action Plan. Among the broad challenges we face, perhaps most noteworthy are:
- the job of effectively involving the public in all aspects of implementation of specific action items in the plan;
- the challenge of using our limited dollars efficiently and wisely, knowing that the needs and demands are great; and
- collectively determining how best to measure environmental results from watershed-level projects, and how to make those results known to national policy makers in the Federal agencies and in Congress.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.