The Cost of Delay: Stormwater Rule Postponed Again

by Yee Huang

December 21, 2011

Whoever accused the EPA of running amok is surely chagrined by the news last week that the agency is behind (again) on another important rule, this one to regulate the stormwater that pollutes many waterbodies across the United States.  Nancy Stoner, EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, told a House Subcommittee last week that the agency would be missing another deadline for proposing the rule. "We're continuing to work on those …  We are behind schedule," she said, according to E&E News PM (subs. required).

Although the statement may be just another sad development that won’t get much attention, stormwater is a serious problem because it carries fertilizers, oil, pesticides, sediment, and trash as it flows over concrete and asphalt surfaces and discharges at high volumes into local waterways.  This uncontrolled discharge scours stream banks, damaging aquatic habitats and eroding natural flood protection infrastructure.  In many places around the country, such as the Chesapeake Bay, stormwater is the only increasing source of water pollution because it increases proportionally to urbanization. 

Controlling stormwater requires mimicking natural hydrologic features, such as building retention ponds or restoring wetlands through which water can percolate slowly back into the ground.  These control structures often cost far less than retrofitting sewage treatment systems and can increase property and aesthetic values.  For its forthcoming rule, EPA is considering developing stricter stormwater standards for newly developed and redeveloped sites, expanding the number of urban areas that are required to manage stormwater, and developing specific provisions such as redefining the existing areas subject to permits for the Chesapeake Bay region. 

A CPR white paper published in April urged the EPA to work as quickly as possible to propose a stormwater rule.  The proposed rule has already been delayed: a legal agreement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation gave EPA a September 30 deadline, which was then extended to December 15.

It is unclear what resources EPA is devoting to the proposed stormwater rule. It can’t help things that agency rulemaking staff were working on an extensive regulatory look-back plan this year. The agency also faces budget cuts.

The EPA’s legal agreement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation still requires the agency to take final action on the rule by November 19, 2012.  This rule may need all the help it can get.

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