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EPA’s Proposed Rulemaking on Runoff and CAFOs Good News for the Chesapeake Bay

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced Monday that the agency will propose new rules to reduce pollution from runoff from urban and suburban areas and from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). This announcement goes far in demonstrating that the EPA under President Obama is serious about its commitments to improve the quality of the nation’s waters, especially those waters that continue to be plagued by pollution from nonpoint and other unregulated sources.

The new rules would apply nationwide, but Administrator Jackson noted that more stringent requirements may apply to the states of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the District of Columbia as part of the new federal efforts to restore the Bay. The proposed rules would expand stormwater regulations to rapidly urbanizing areas and would apply regulations to existing, large impervious surfaces like parking lots. In addition, the proposed rules would designate more animal feeding operations as CAFOs and subject them to permitting requirements. The EPA would also expand regulations for manure management for off-site uses of manure.

While new regulations are needed to cover existing gaps, the EPA should also use all of its existing authority to take action and be wary of the potential delay caused by new rulemaking. The rules are not expected to be finalized until 2012 for stormwater and 2013 for CAFOs. Administrator Jackson emphasized the primacy of state actions, declaring that the EPA will not implement the rules “if the states, on their own, have adopted programs that will effectively do the same thing.” (Greenwire, subs. required). In the past, faith in state actions has proved unwarranted, yet that faith springs eternal. By proposing the rule, EPA has demonstrated that it is willing to make good on its promises of strong federal leadership if states fail to address these sources of pollution.

These rules are likely to face strong, vocal, and bitter opposition from a range of potentially affected interests – developers, builders’ associations, agribusiness representatives – the list is not unfamiliar. But the Obama Administration and the Jackson EPA must stand firm and not lose sight of the ultimate goal: cleaner water, healthier ecosystems, and sustainable economic and environmental benefits from these natural resources.

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