Vitter to EPA: Can’t Fix Gulf “Dead Zone” With Heavy-Handed Approach
November 1, 2013
Today, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Water of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regarding the Agency's insufficient response to State concerns over the Agency's solutions to the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Agency's neglecting to work with state officials in Louisiana and throughout the Mississippi River system. Vitter is specifically asking EPA to better support its listing decision of Louisiana coastal waters and work more closely with the states in their efforts to address the "dead zone" issue.
"This is a perennial issue we deal with along the Gulf, and the EPA ought to listen to Louisiana officials who know what's going on," Vitter said. "The longer the EPA neglects working with Louisiana and other Mississippi River States, the longer it will take to solve this serious ‘dead zone' issue."
For years, Louisiana and other Mississippi River States have been working together to solve oxygen deficiency issues in the Gulf of Mexico. The lack of oxygen in the water creates a "dead zone" that hurts marine life, especially shellfish near the bottom. EPA's recent decision to force Louisiana to develop a heavy-handed regulatory control measure, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, inhibits collaborative efforts by Louisiana and other states to achieve meaningful progress on the "dead zone."
Ms. Nancy Stoner
Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20460
Dear Acting Assistant Administrator Stoner,
I am writing to you regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) July 18, 2013 listing of three coastal water segments on Louisiana's Clean Water Act 2012 § 303(d) List, and the corresponding Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirement imposed on Louisiana. I am concerned that EPA insufficiently addressed issues the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) raised over this listing decision. Additionally, I fear that a TMDL is an unwise approach to the important Gulf hypoxia issue and that EPA has neglected to consider the consequences that a TMDL approach would impose on the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin's collaborative efforts to solve this complex and far-reaching issue. Therefore, I ask that EPA better support its listing decision and to refrain from mandating a counterproductive TMDL development.
As you are aware, EPA has included the three coastal segments 021102, 070601, and 120806 on the § 303(d) List (Integrated Report Category 5) for the 2008, 2010, and 2012 Integrated Reports. By listing these segments as Category 5, the EPA claimed that there is sufficient data to designate the waters as impaired and that a TMDL plan is needed as a regulatory control measure.
However, LDEQ has consistently objected to EPA's listing claims and the TMDL approach. For example, LDEQ argued that EPA failed to comply with the relevant data quality objectives approved by the agency, and that the data sets used by EPA were therefore limited temporally and geographically. Yet, in response to LDEQ, EPA neglected to demonstrate how its methodology complied with the data quality objectives contained in the ambient monitoring Quality Assurance Project Plan, suggesting that the EPA agrees its methodology lacked scientific rigor. If this is indeed the case, it would be an unacceptable flaw for such an important regulatory decision.
Furthermore, by requiring a TMDL, EPA is undermining the State's ability to implement workable frameworks for addressing nutrient issues and is inhibiting the development of other, more effective approaches. The hypoxia issue encompasses the entire Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) and so any solution must be done in complete consultation and cooperation with MARB States. Currently, the Hypoxia Task Force is working with the States, aligning their independent efforts to make significant progress. By requiring Louisiana to develop a TMDL, EPA is undermining the inter-agency and State efforts of all of the MARB Sates to come together and create an effective approach on this issue. In particular, a TMDL requirement undermines Louisiana's efforts to be a key participant.
In a March 26, 2012 letter, EPA emphasized its commitment to "working as partners with the states and key stakeholders" while continuing to "support innovative and flexible state-led approaches to addressing nutrient pollution." I am thankful for EPA's commitment to the States and the recognition of the States' efforts and successes. I ask that EPA work with LDEQ and other Louisiana officials as well as the other MARB States in their efforts to achieve prudent nutrient reduction strategies.
If you have questions regarding this request, please contact the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works at (202) 224-6176.
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
cc: Mr. Ron Curry
Region 6 Regional Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
1445 Ross Avenue, Suite 1200
Dallas, Texas 75202