TESTIMONY OF J.
October 18, 1999
TESTIMONY OFI. INTRODUCTION
J. CHARLES FOX
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR WATER
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON WATER RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
October 18, 1999
Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. I am Chuck Fox, Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I am pleased to be able to talk with you this morning about the Nation's clean water program.
Today is the 27th anniversary of the enactment of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Twenty-seven years ago, the Potomac River was too dirty to swim in, Lake Erie was dying, and the Cuyahoga River was so polluted it burst into flames. Many rivers and beaches were little more than open sewers.
Enactment of the CWA dramatically improved the health of rivers, lakes and coastal waters. It stopped billions of pounds of pollution from fouling the water and doubled the number of waterways safe for fishing and swimming. Today, many rivers, lakes, and coasts are thriving centers of healthy communities.
In my testimony today, I want to describe the work EPA is doing to carry the clean water program forward to the next century and review EPA's work to protect the quality of the Nation's lakes.II. CLEAN WATER FOR THE FUTURE -- THE CLEAN WATER ACTION PLAN
Despite tremendous progress, almost 40 percent of the Nation's waterways assessed by States still do not meet water quality goals. Pollution from factories and sewage treatment plants, soil erosion, and wetland losses have been dramatically reduced. But runoff from city streets, rural areas, and other sources continues to degrade the environment and puts drinking water at risk. Fish in many waters still contain dangerous levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other toxic contaminants. Beach closings are increasingly common.
Several years ago, after taking a hard look at the serious water pollution problems around the country, the Administration concluded that implementation of the existing programs was not stopping serious new water pollution threats to public health, living resources, and the Nation's waters, particularly from polluted runoff. We concluded that clean water programs lacked the strength, resources, and framework to finish the job of restoring rivers, lakes, and coastal areas.
In response to this concern, President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced, in February of 1998, a major new effort to speed the restoration of the Nation's waterways. The Clean Water Action Plan builds on the solid foundation of the Clean Water Act and describes over 100 actions -- based on existing statutory authority -- to strengthen efforts to restore and protect water resources.
The Action Plan is built around four key tools to achieve clean water goals.
- A Watershed Approach -- The Action Plan envisions an improved collaborative effort by Federal, State, Tribal, and local governments; the public; and the private sector to restore and sustain the health of the over 2,000 watersheds in the country. The watershed approach provides a framework for water quality management and is a key to setting priorities and taking action to clean up rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.
- Strong Federal and State Standards -- The Action Plan describes how Federal, State, and Tribal agencies may revise standards where needed and make programs more effective. Strong standards are key to protecting public health, preventing polluted runoff, and ensuring accountability.
- Natural Resource Stewardship -- Most of the land in the Nation's watersheds is cropland, pasture, rangeland, or forests, and most of the water that ends up in rivers, lakes, and coastal waters falls on these lands first. Clean water depends on the conservation and stewardship of these natural resources. This Action Plan calls on Federal natural resource agencies to support State and local watershed restoration and protection.
- Informed Citizens and Officials -- Clear, accurate, and timely information is the foundation of a sound water quality program. Informed citizens and officials make better decisions about their watersheds. The Action Plan calls on Federal agencies to improve the information available to the public, governments, and others about the health of their watersheds and the safety of their beaches, drinking water, and fish.
We are making good progress in implementing the over 100 specific actions described in the Clean Water Action Plan. Congress has provided vital support to this work by appropriating critical funding, including almost doubling funding for reducing polluted runoff to the level of $200 million per year.
Some key accomplishments include: unified assessments of watershed health by States, initiation of several hundred Watershed Restoration Action Strategies, a new BEACH action plan, a response plan for pollution threats to coastal waters, new efforts to support development of riparian buffers, and a contaminated sediment strategy. Many other critical projects are underway at EPA, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior, the Army Corps of engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, as well as in States, local governments, and the private sector.
The Clean Water Action Plan is a sound blueprint that takes clean water programs into the next century. I ask, Mr. Chairman, that a copy of the first annual report of progress to implement the Clean Water Action Plan be included as part of my testimony in the hearing record.
III. PROPOSED CLEAN WATER ACT AMENDMENTS
I want to take a moment to look at the bigger picture of CWA reauthorization.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, key funding authorizations and several clean water SRF provisions of the CWA expired in 1994. At that time, the Administration saw this as an opportunity to release a detailed proposal for comprehensive amendments to strengthen the CWA. I regret that, since then, there has been no consensus on legislation to strengthen the Clean Water Act.
Over the past several months, however, there has been renewed interest in clean water legislation. Both your Subcommittee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have held hearings on a range of bills to amend diverse elements of the CWA.
Clean Water Infrastructure
Both House and Senate Committee's have considered bills to expand Federal funding for the existing State revolving loan funds (SRFs) established under Title VI of the Act. As I have indicated in earlier testimony, we believe that the clean water SRFs are an essential tool for meeting clean water needs in the future.
To date, SRFs have assets of about $30 billion and have made over 8,000 individual loans for projects to control sewage pollution and reduce polluted runoff. The EPA 1996 Clean Water Needs Survey estimates that the cost of needed clean water projects is at least $128 billion.
Although the authorization for SRF funding expired in 1994, the President's FY 2000 budget proposes to maintain Federal capitalization of SRFs into the next century. The Administration's goal is to capitalize the SRF programs to revolve at a level of about $2 billion in financial assistance annually over the next several decades. This proposed investment is consistent with the Administration's Deficit Reduction Plan as well as historical levels of Federal assistance for wastewater treatment. It will provide a substantial and sustained contribution to meeting the overall annual need.
Bills pending in the House and Senate proposed higher levels of Federal funding of SRFs. Our understanding of clean water needs is evolving and the Administration would like to encourage a constructive dialogue on the appropriate and affordable long-term funding level for the SRF program.
Other Clean Water Bills
Several other bills have been the subject of recent Congressional hearings. These bills address combined sewer overflows, storm water, and enforcement at Federal facilities. Today, we are focusing on clean lakes.
Although the Administration is pleased to provide comments on the specific provisions of each of these narrowly focused bills, I want to encourage the Congress to consider the need to strengthen the CWA in several critical areas that are not now the subject of proposed legislation. For example, the Administration's proposal in 1994 called for strengthening statutory authority to reduce polluted runoff, better protect wetlands, reduce toxic pollution, and improve compliance and enforcement. The clean water program has evolved over the past 5 years, but most of the recommendations we made in 1994 are still appropriate today.
In addition, recent court decisions have limited our ability to protect wetlands from the harmful effects of draining activities. As a result, we are losing tens of thousands of acres of wetlands.
The Administration stands ready to work with the Congress on the full range of amendments needed to strengthen the Clean Water Act.
IV. PROTECTING THE NATION'S LAKES
Lakes -- A Threatened Natural Resource
As a Nation, we are fortunate to have magnificent lake resources -- 39.9 million lakes with a combined surface area of 41.7 million acres. This is a natural resource of outstanding value. Millions of Americans cherish lakes, whether it is the lake in our backyard, the pond where we learned to ice skate, the lake where we hope to land that championship bass or where we spent that great vacation with our grandparents.
Today there are too many lakes in trouble. States report that they assessed about 40% of lake acres and found that 39% of those assessed lake acres are not meeting water quality goals. About 10% of lakes meeting clean water goals are threatened with impairment.
Major challenges in lake protection lie ahead.
- Population growth and sprawl add nutrients and sediment to lakes. Nutrients and sediments are the first and third ranking pollutants impairing lakes.
- Toxic pollutants, such as mercury, are deposited in lakes after being emitted from major air pollution sources such as electric power plants. These pollutants are increasingly being identified at unsafe levels in fish in lakes throughout the Northeast and the rest of the country. Metals are the second ranking cause of lake impairments.
- Acid rain is another source of atmospheric pollution that impairs lakes. According to New York State, the effects of acid rain have left more than three hundred lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Mountains without fish. Another three to four hundred may be so acidic that populations of sensitive fish species have been eliminated or severely reduced.
- Invasive aquatic and terrestrial nuisance species limit uses of lakes. They are establishing themselves in more and more lakes by hitching rides on the transportation system that is shrinking the world.
The major sources of pollution to lakes are agricultural runoff, various other diffuse or nonpoint sources, and atmospheric deposition. Urban runoff, sewage, and runoff from construction are also major sources of lake pollution.
Clean Water Programs that Benefit Lakes
The good news for lakes is that many of the core programs now being implemented under the CWA to protect the Nation's water resources generally are effective and appropriate for protecting and restoring lakes.
Some of these core clean water programs are described below.
- Section 319 Nonpoint Pollution: Under section 319 of the CWA, States receive $200 million each year in grant funding for programs and projects to reduce nonpoint pollution, by far the biggest source of pollution to lakes.
In recent years, we've been encouraging States to use the section 319 funds to do the lakes work previously supported under the Clean Lakes Program (i.e. section 314 of the CWA). EPA has made explicit in our 1996 and 1998 guidance the clean lakes work previously done under section 314 is eligible for funding under section 319.
For fiscal years 1994 - 1998, between 5 and 9 percent of 319 funds have been used for lakes projects each year. The funding level rises considerably when projects benefitting multiple water body types, e.g., lakes and rivers, streams, wetlands, are considered.
Finally, in guidance that we issued for the section 319 program for FY 1999, we removed the $250,000 cap on assessment activities, thus providing greater flexibility to do the lake assessment work that was previously done under the Clean Lakes Program. We are allowing states to use up to 20% of their 319 grants -- $40 million nationwide -- for this assessment work.
- State Revolving Loan Funds: Under Title VI of the CWA, States use Federal funds to capitalize State loan funds that then make loans to finance clean water projects.
Many SRF loans are for sewage treatment, but EPA is also encouraging greater use of the SRFs to address nonpoint source problems. The SRFs can fund virtually any type or category of project to reduce nonpoint source pollution as long as the problem is identified in state nonpoint source management plans. Therefore, priority lake management needs identified in the updated State nonpoint source plans are eligible to receive loans from the SRFs. Since 1988, the SRFs have provided nearly $900 million for nonpoint source projects.
- Total Maximum Daily Load Program: Under section 303(d) of the CWA, States identify waters not meeting clean water goals. For each listed water, States develop estimates of the "total maximum daily load" (TMDL) acceptable for the water body, and identify needed pollution reductions from point sources, nonpoint sources, and air deposition. The TMDL program is a critical element of effective water quality management and essential tool for identifying polluted waters and getting them on the road to recovery.
Of the over 20,000 waters listed by States as impaired in 1998, 3,400 -- or 15% -- are lakes. We expect that implementation of the TMDL program will result in significant improvements to the Nation's lakes.
- Storm Water Permit Program: In response to the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act, EPA and States issue permits to control polluted runoff from municipal storm sewers and from construction sites.
The storm water program helps reduce pollution that results when poorly planned development and urbanization alters hydrology and sweeps pollutants to storm drains and into lakes.
EPA will shortly publish final regulations to expand the existing storm water program to cover small-sized cities and construction sites between 1-5 acres. These new rules will be a major step toward protecting lakes in urban and quickly developing suburban areas through out the country.
- Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996: The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 include new provisions that can be used to help protect and restore lakes and reservoirs that are sources of drinking water. Many States have already started to undertake source water assessments for a number of public water supplies, many of which draw water from lakes or reservoirs.
- Better America Bonds: The Administration's proposed FY 2000 budget included several proposals to address the need for green spaces, traffic improvements, growth management strategies and other goals. A key component of this livability agenda is the Better America Bonds program.
If the proposal is adopted by Congress, lake and watershed managers will have access to another valuable tool that can help finance shoreside protection of publicly-owned areas by planting trees or other vegetation, creating settling ponds to control runoff.
Lake Protection Programs
Each of the existing core, national clean water programs is making a substantial contribution to the protection of the Nation's lakes. In addition, EPA is working to implement several programs that focus directly on protecting lakes.
- Nutrient Criteria for Lakes: As reported by States in their 305(b) reports, nutrients are the leading pollutant causing water quality problems for lakes and reservoirs. The Clean Water Action Plan calls for EPA to establish numeric criteria for nutrients that are tailored to reflect the different types of water bodies -- lakes, rivers, wetlands and estuaries -- and the different nutrient ecoregions of the country. EPA will assist States in adopting numeric water quality standards for nutrients based on these criteria.
EPA expects to publish the final guidance manual for water quality criteria for nutrients in lakes this November. Next year, EPA will publish default numeric criteria for nutrients in lakes in 8 of the 14 ecoregions, including the ecoregions of the Northeast. The numeric nutrient criteria will be an important new tool for lake protection.
- Air Deposition of Toxic Metals to Lakes: Metals, and particularly mercury, are the second most frequent pollutant problem for lakes and reservoirs reported by States. Mercury is a persistent pollutant that bioaccumulates in fish tissue.
During the 1990's, States began reporting widespread mercury contamination in fish. As States expanded their tissue monitoring programs, they found elevated concentrations of mercury in fish inhabiting remote lakes far removed from agricultural operations, urban areas, and industrial operations. Forty States -- from Wisconsin to Florida -- have issued fish consumption advisories due to mercury levels in fish, and 11 States have issued advisories on a statewide basis.
Besides deposition from the global pool of mercury, air deposition is a significant source of mercury contamination of surface waters and fish. Air emissions from waste incinerators, coal-fired plants, and smelters located in the U.S. may carry mercury many miles to deposition remote watersheds.
EPA has a pilot project underway to examine mercury from air sources through the total maximum daily load (TMDL) process. The pilot project involves Devil's Lake in Wisconsin, as well as a portion of the Florida Everglades. We expect to issue findings from the project in about a year.
Also, EPA is considering regulating mercury emissions from utilities. We are under a court order to make a final decision by December 15 of 2000.
- Acid Rain Reduction: EPA is implementing an aggressive program to reduce acid rain. The overall goal of EPA's Acid Rain Program is to achieve significant environmental and public health benefits through reductions in emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX), the primary causes of acid rain.
To achieve this goal at the lowest cost to society, the program employs both traditional and innovative, market-based approaches for controlling air pollution. In addition, the program encourages energy efficiency and pollution prevention.
The Clean Air Act sets as its primary goal the reduction of annual SO2 emissions by 10 million tons below 1980 levels. To achieve these reductions, the law requires a two-phase tightening of the restrictions placed on fossil fuel-fired power plants.
Phase I began in 1995 and affects 263 units at 110 mostly coal-burning electric utility plants located in 21 eastern and midwestern states. An additional 182 units joined Phase I of the program as substitution or compensating units, bringing the total of Phase I affected units to 445. Emissions data indicate that 1995 SO2 emissions at these units nationwide were reduced by almost 40% below their required level. Phase II begins in January 2000 and EPA projects that the full 10 million reduction in annual SO2 emissions will occur by 2010.
- Great Lakes Program: EPA is working with States and other partners to implement and strong and effective programs for protecting the Nations's best known lakes - the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement lays the foundation for on-going efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes and commits the US and Canada to develop Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) for Areas of Concern within a lake and Lakewide Management Plans (LAMPs) for each lake.
As RAPs are being developed, EPA, States, and other participants are taking actions to improve water quality in Areas of Concern. These actions address problems associated with industrial and municipal dischargers, contaminated sediments through the Assessment and Remediation of Contaminated Sediments (ARCS) program, and combined sewer overflows.
As with the RAP process, LAMPs are intended to follow a comprehensive ecosystem approach, drawing on the full range of Federal, State, and local environmental programs, as needed. Again, as with the RAP process, EPA and States view Lakewide Management Planning as an ongoing management process to identify priority environmental problems, the steps needed to solve the problems, and ecological outcomes.
V. Clean Lakes Program Reauthorization
Section 314 of the Clean Water Act authorizes funding for projects to protect and restore the quality of lakes. H.R. 2328, which is before the Subcommittee today, would authorize grants for the section 314 program at the level of $100 million per year through fiscal year 2005, and expands authorization for demonstration projects.
In the 1970s and '80s, much of the lakes work funded by EPA was done under the section 314 Clean Lakes Program. Lots of good work was done under this program demonstrating approaches to cleaning up lakes.
For example, States have used section 314 funds for projects to reduce polluted runoff, control acidity, dredge sediment from lakes, and implement remediation projects.
EPA identified several concerns with the program. Funding often was limited to only a few States and some States have had only a few projects. In addition, funding levels were small and variable -- averaging $7.2 million from 1976 through 1995. Also, some projects had limited water quality benefits (e.g. weed control).
In FY 1991, EPA decided to stop requesting funding for the clean lakes grant program. EPA's action was partly a response to concerns about the section 314 grant program and partly on the recognition that many of the new programs enacted in the 1987 amendments to the Act (e.g. the section 319 grant program, the SRF program) provided assistance comparable to that of clean lakes program grants and allow the States to implement what was learned in the clean lakes demonstrations.
The Administration believes that the combined effect of solid, core national programs and the programs designed to specifically protect lakes, mentioned above, is a flexible, effective and appropriate response to the water quality problems facing the Nation's lakes. Funding for projects under the section 314 grant program is not needed at this time. In addition, given the funding constraints faced by the appropriations committees of the Congress, any appropriations under the proposed section 314 funding authorization are likely to deplete funding for the clean water SRF program and the section 319 nonpoint pollution control program. The SRF and 319 programs are flexible tools that have been proven to be effective -- they should be our top priority for Federal investments in clean water. Given these concerns, the Administration is opposed to H.R. 2328.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee for this opportunity to testify on progress the Administration is making to implement the Clean Water Act. EPA stands ready to work with the Congress to strengthen all our clean water programs -- for lakes, as well as rivers, coastal waters, and wetlands. We hope to work constructively with congress on challenging but important issues like the appropriate funding level for the SRF program, restoring wetlands protection authority, reducing nonpoint pollution, and improving enforcement.
I will be happy to answer any questions.