EPA, Alabama Reach Stormwater Agreement

Published February 7, 2011

After months of wrangling between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, EPA has approved ADEM’s proposed rules for managing stormwater.

State Delegation
EPA defines stormwater as “rainwater and melted snow that runs off streets, lawns, and other sites.” Per its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act, EPA in most states delegates stormwater pollution authority to state environmental regulators through its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Stormwater Program. In Alabama, ADEM is responsible for issuing permits for localities to operate drainage systems that discharge stormwater into rivers and other small waterways.

The rules that won EPA’s approval were the third draft submitted by ADEM. EPA had rejected ADEM’s second draft, instructing the agency to impose more stringent regulations on municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4). EPA threatened to step in and run the state’s stormwater program itself if ADEM didn’t meet EPA’s demands.

“The Department has been communicating with EPA to ensure we put in place an MS4 permit that is protective of Alabama’s water resources,” said Scott Hughes, spokesperson for ADEM’s Office of External Affairs.

“EPA’s recent approval of the proposed permit confirms that the permit will be effective in protecting water quality in Alabama, and the Department will now move forward with the permitting process,” Hughes added. “We appreciate the comments that we received from all of our stakeholders, including EPA, and we will now work to finalize this permit and oversee its implementation.”

Avoiding EPA Takeover
Hughes explained, “There was always the possibility that EPA would not agree with our proposed permit requirements and they could proceed with issuing their own permit. However, due to the open lines of communication between the ADEM staff and the staff at EPA, we always felt that we would reach agreement on the outstanding issues, and we were correct on that issue. The bottom line is that we always had open lines of communication between the two agencies and we always felt that we were going to come to an agreement on this issue.”

Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, says EPA doesn’t have constitutional authority to administer a state’s stormwater plan anyway.

“It is certainty preferable that Alabama runs its own clean-water program,” Burnett said. However, “It would be better still if the federal government stayed out of local water matters.

“Except where waters cross state boundaries, the federal government should have no say whatsoever over these issues,” Burnett explained. “The U.S. Constitution doesn’t give them that power, and it’s a shame that regulatory agencies so often extort unnecessary concessions from states to satisfy national environmental lobbyists who don’t care whether states suffer economic decline.”

Drew Thornley ([email protected]) is a lecturer in the department of Business, Government, and Society at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.