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EPA Issues Memo to Increase the Agency’s Compliance with Clean Water Act Deadlines

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking an important step toward ensuring the Agency is meeting its statutory obligations and carrying out the cooperative federalism principles embodied in the Clean Water Act (CWA). In a memorandum to EPA Regional Administrators, EPA Assistant Administrator  for Office of Water David Ross directed regional offices to comply with statutory deadlines for acting on state and tribal CWA submittals while improving responsiveness in the agency’s oversight role.

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“The Clean Water Act establishes a framework that authorizes states and tribes to make water quality management decisions that can be tailored to the needs of their citizens and specific natural resources,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Office of Water David Ross. “Going forward, EPA will be more responsive to our regulatory partners while recognizing their expertise in local and regional water quality as we work together to better protect public health and the environment.”

For years, EPA has routinely exceeded the review and action timelines established by Congress in the CWA. This inaction has resulted in uncertainty for states, tribes and the regulated community; delayed meaningful actions to improve local water quality; spurred lawsuits against the agency; and created significant backlogs and increased workload.

“State agencies and their stakeholders deserve clarity and certainty,” said Missouri Department of Natural Resources Director Carol Comer. “Timely decisions made at the federal level allow states to operate more effectively. Often, states must develop processes and procedures to implement proposed rules or standards, which in the past have been delayed—sometimes by years—awaiting an EPA determination. In addition, our regulated community depends upon our decisions to plan investments or process changes. We support the Administration’s policy promoting quick action at the federal level. We believe it will be good for the environment and good for our stakeholders.

The memo directs regional offices to approve or disapprove state and tribal CWA submittals within the timelines established by Congress. For example, EPA must approve new or revised water quality standard submittals within 60 days of the date of the submission or disapprove within 90 days, and the agency must approve or disapprove biannual lists of waters determined to be impaired and total maximum daily loads within 30 days.

EPA’s memo underscores the importance of restoring the agency’s oversight role to be more consistent with congressional intent. Should the agency disapprove a state or tribal submittal on the basis that it fails to meet CWA requirements, the memo directs regional offices to develop a plan to ensure all required follow up actions are consistent with CWA requirements and statutory deadlines. This plan must be put into place prior to issuing the disapproval.

“Idaho appreciates the cooperation we have recently experienced as EPA has worked with us to address our pending submittals,” said Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director John Tippets. “This policy will further the cooperative partnership that we believe is necessary for effective collaboration between the EPA and the states. We welcome a process that recognizes that states should expect timely action on their submittals and that approval should be expected when federal guidelines have been followed. Ultimately, this policy will result in better outcomes for states and their citizens.”

To read the memorandum, visit

This is a press release from the EPA.

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