Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and states' efforts to implement the Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements for controlling water pollution, focusing on: (1) their efforts to identify waters impaired by toxic pollutants and to develop strategies to control discharges into U.S. waters; and (2) the extent to which existing water pollution control programs and activities control all types and sources of toxic pollution.
Matter for Congressional Consideration
|In light of existing resource constraints and barriers hindering greater use of innovative approaches to financing water pollution programs and preventing toxic discharges to the nation's waters, Congress may wish to consider directing EPA to develop a pollutant-based discharger fee system that would: (1) generate additional revenue for water pollution programs; and (2) serve as an incentive for dischargers to use pollution prevention techniques to reduce or eliminate their toxic discharges.||The Senate Committee on Clean Water Act reauthorizations has attempted to develop a proposal for such a fee for inclusion in the Senate bill for Clean Water Act reauthorizations. However, according to committee staff, no proposal could be developed that was politically acceptable due to the ceiling set for the Federal budget as well as problems in deciding who should pay and how much. It is unlikely that such a proposal will be acceptable in the near term.|
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Environmental Protection Agency||1. To improve controls over the discharge of toxic pollutants to the nation's waters, the Administrator, EPA, should accelerate the development and revision of national effluent guidelines and criteria documents by focusing on the most harmful toxic pollutants being discharged to the nation's receiving waters. EPA should also follow through with its initial efforts to find alternative ways to obtain additional resource to support the development of guidelines and criteria documents.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||2. To improve controls over the discharge of toxic pollutants to the nation's waters, the Administrator, EPA, should issue guidance directing states to conduct more ambient monitoring for toxic pollutants as part of the biennial water quality inventory reporting process and to assess the quality of a minimum percentage of their surface water miles during each biennial review cycle.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||3. To improve controls over the discharge of toxic pollutants to the nation's waters, the Administrator, EPA, should issue guidance on how and when states may grant variances for state water quality standards and for individual toxic discharge limits in permits.|