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USEPA's 2014 Regulatory Agenda

USEPAThe United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) recently released a Regulatory Agenda to outline its top priorities for 2014. Although it does not contain specific plans or timelines, the document gives the public insight into the USEPA's goals for the immediate future. The "Protecting Water: A Precious, Limited Resource" section of the agenda lists the following five bulleted priorities:

Stormwater. Urban stormwater is a leading source of impairment and a growing water quality concern. Over 60 percent of regulated municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) discharge to impaired waters. Stormwater from newly developed areas is one of the nation's largest growing sources of water pollution. Approximately 800,000 acres are developed every year and development is projected to grow to over one million acres by 2040. Development increases the amount of impervious cover in the landscape and even small increases in impervious cover can lead to big impacts in receiving waters. As more land is developed and new impervious surfaces are created, the volume, velocity, and pollutants contained in stormwater increases. The USEPA is considering a range of regulatory and non-regulatory options to reduce the pollutant loads delivered by stormwater discharges to receiving waters and improve water quality and aquatic ecosystem integrity, and to protect water quality from certain currently unregulated storm water discharges. USEPA plans to work closely with State and local governments in this effort and will consider innovative approaches to address these issues.

Improving Water Quality. USEPA will address challenging water quality issues with several updated rules during fiscal year 2014, including nutrient loadings, invasive species, and drinking water contaminants. The USEPA indicates that both traditional and innovative strategies will be used.

Cooling Water Intake Structures. USEPA plans to finalize standards for cooling water intakes for electric power generating facilities and for manufacturers using large amounts of cooling water. The goal of the final rule will be to protect aquatic organisms from being killed or injured through impingement or entrainment.

Steam Electric Power Plants. USEPA will establish national effluent guidelines to reduce discharges of pollutants from industries to waters of the U.S. and publicly owned treatment works. These requirements will be incorporated into National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System discharge permits issued by USEPA and states. The steam electric effluent guidelines apply to steam-driven electric power generating facilities using nuclear or fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Power plant discharges can have major impacts on water quality, including reduced organism abundance and species diversity, contamination of drinking water sources, and other health effects. Pollutants of concern include metals such as mercury, arsenic, and selenium, as well as nutrients and total dissolved solids.

Definition of "Waters of the United States" Under the Clean Water Act. After U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. United States cases, the scope of "waters of the United States" protected under Clean Water Act (CWA) programs has been an issue of considerable debate and uncertainty. The CWA does not distinguish among programs as to what constitutes "waters of the United States." As a result, these decisions affect the geographic scope of all CWA programs. SWANCC and Rapanos did not invalidate the current regulatory definition of "waters of the United States." However, the decisions established important considerations for how those regulations should be interpreted. Experience implementing the regulations following the two court cases has identified several areas that could benefit from additional clarification through rulemaking.

In addition to protecting the nation's water resources, the USEPA's Regulatory Agenda includes these priorities:

  • Making a Visible Difference in Communities Across the Country
  • Addressing Climate Change and Improving Air Quality
  • Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety
  • Launching a New Era of State, Tribal and Local Partnership
  • Working Toward a Sustainable Future

Also in 2014, USEPA is expected to publish an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, in August. The rule would be listed under the Toxic Substances Control Act's sections 8(a) and 8(d) regarding obtaining data on chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing.



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