EPA Signals Change of Direction on Stormwater Rulemaking

In late March, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff confirmed that the agency intends to refocus resources in light of delays in proposing the national stormwater rule. The president’s fiscal year 2015 budget request includes $5 million and an added 30 staff to support green infrastructure programs focused on sustainability goals. This significant development signals a quiet change in direction from EPA’s previous commitment to develop a new national rule, a commitment made as part of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation litigation. Although EPA has not formally asked the court to modify the schedule set by the current agreement, environmental advocates already have reacted strongly to word that EPA may be changing its focus.

The impact of EPA’s intended change of direction in the stormwater rulemaking is expected to be broad. Changes may affect enforcement approaches and lead to increased efforts of implementing the existing Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit program. It also may include shifts in resources, with increased funds and staffing dedicated to green infrastructure, stormwater controls and other approaches. An increase in resources could allow EPA to create opportunities for economically disadvantaged communities.

Finally, EPA will need to consider its legal next steps with regard to the settlement with Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Although more effective national regulation of stormwater may remain a high priority for EPA, current agency leadership is likely to use the balance of time in the current administration to focus on improvements to the current program. These improvements may be related to compliance rates, which are considered low. Only a quarter of Phase I and nearly half of Phase II municipalities operating programs under expired permits. EPA intends to refocus its attention on the MS4 program in addition to increasing its enforcement work with regions and states.

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