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United States Government Accountability Office GAO For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST Wednesday, January 23, 2008 Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives GREAT LAKES INITIATIVE EPA and States Have Made Progress, but Much Remains to Be Done If Water Quality Goals Are to Be Achieved Statement of David Maurer Acting Director, Natural Resources and Environment GAO-08-312T Janu
    United States Government Accountability Office GAO TestimonyBefore the Subcommittee on WaterResources and Environment, Committeeon Transportation and Infrastructure,House of Representatives GREAT LAKES INITIATIVEEPA and States Have MadeProgress, but MuchRemains to Be Done If Water Quality Goals Are toBe Achieved Statement of David Maurer Acting Director, Natural Resources and Environment For Release on DeliveryExpected at 10:00 a.m. ESTWednesday, January 23, 2008 GAO-08-312T  What GAO Found United States Government Accountability Office Why GAO Did This Study H ighlights Accountability Integrity Reliability   January 23, 2008   GREAT LAKES INITIATIVE EPA and S tate s Have Made Pro g re ss , but MuchRemain s to Be Done If Water Quality Goal s Are to BeAchieved Highlights ofGAO-08-312T, a testimonybefore the Subcommittee on WaterResources and Environment, Committeeon Transportation and Infrastructure,House of Representatives Millions of people in the UnitedStates and Canada depend on theGreat Lakes for drinking water,recreation, and economiclivelihood. During the 1970s, itbecame apparent that pollutantsdischarged into the Great LakesBasin from point sources, such asindustrial and municipal facilities,or from nonpoint sources, such asair emissions from power plants,were harming the Great Lakes.Some of these pollutants, known asbioaccumulative chemicals of concern (BCC), pose risks to fishand other species as well as to thehumans and wildlife that consumethem. In 1995, the EnvironmentalProtection Agency (EPA) issuedthe Great Lakes Initiative (GLI).The GLI established water qualitycriteria to be used by states toestablish pollutant discharge limitsfor some BCCs and other pollutants that are discharged by point sources. The GLI also allowsstates to include flexible permitimplementation procedures(flexibilities) that allow facilities’discharges to exceed GLI criteria.This testimony is based on GAO’s July 2005 report, Great Lakes Initiative: EPA Needs to Better  Ensure the Complete andConsistent Implementation of Water Quality Standards (GAO-05-829) and updated information fromEPA and the Great Lakes states.This statement addresses (1) thestatus of EPA’s efforts to developand approve methods to measure pollutants at the GLI water qualitycriteria levels, (2) the use of permitflexibilities, and (3) EPA’s actionsto implement GAO’s 2005recommendations.  As GAO reported in 2005, developing the sensitive analytical methods neededto measure pollutants at the GLI water quality criteria level is a significantchallenge to achieving GLI’s goals. Of the nine BCCs for which criteria havebeen established, only two—mercury and lindane—have EPA-approvedmethods that will measure below those criteria levels. Measurement methodsfor the other BCCs are either not yet approved or cannot reliably measure toGLI criteria. Without such measurement, it is difficult for states to determinewhether a facility is exceeding the criteria and if discharge limits are requiredin the facility’s permit. As methods become available, states are able toinclude enforceable discharge limits in facilities’ permits. For example, sinceEPA approved a more sensitive method for mercury in 1999, the number of  permits with mercury limits has increased from 185 in May 2005 to 292 inNovember 2007. EPA and state officials expect this trend to continue. Similarincreases may occur as more sensitive analytical methods are developed andapproved for other BCCs.Flexibilities included in permits allow facilities’ discharges to exceed GLIwater quality criteria. For example, one type of flexibility—variances—willallow facilities to exceed the GLI criteria for a pollutant specified in their permits. Moreover, the GLI allows the repeated use of some of these permitflexibilities, and does not set a time frame for facilities to meet the GLI waterquality criteria. As a result, EPA and state officials do not know when the GLIcriteria will be met.In the 2005 report, GAO made a number of recommendations to EPA to helpensure full and consistent implementation of the GLI and to improvemeasures for monitoring progress toward achieving GLI’s goals. EPA hastaken some actions to implement the recommendations. For example, EPAhas begun to review the efforts and progress made by one category of facilities—municipal wastewater treatment plants—to reduce their mercurydischarges into the basin. However, until EPA gathers more information onthe implementation of GLI and the impact it has had on reducing pollutantdischarges from point sources, as we recommended, it will not be able to fullyassess progress toward GLI goals. Fi g ure 1: Area Compri s in g the Great Lake s Ba s in To view the full product, including the scopeand methodology, click onGAO-08-312T.For more information, contact David Maurerat (202) 512-3841 ormaurerd@gao.gov.    Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee:I am pleased to be here today to discuss our work on the Great LakesInitiative (GLI), and its impact on water quality in the Great Lakes Basin. 1   As you know, millions of people in the United States and Canada dependon the Great Lakes—the largest system of freshwater in the world—as asource of drinking water, recreation, and economic livelihood. During the1970s, it became apparent that pollutants discharged into the basin from point sources, such as industrial and municipal facilities, or from nonpointsources, such as air emissions from power plants and agricultural runoff,were harming the Great Lakes. Because less than 1 percent of the GreatLakes’ water recycles or turns over each year, on average, many of these pollutants stay in place, settling in sediments or bio-accumulating in fishand other aquatic species. As a result, some of these pollutants, such asmercury and dioxin, known as bioaccumulative chemicals of concern(BCC), pose risks to those species as well as to the humans and wildlifethat consume them.In 1990, following a series of binational agreements aimed at improvingenvironmental conditions in the Great Lakes Basin, the Congress passedthe Great Lakes Critical Programs Act. This act, which amended the CleanWater Act, required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publish water quality guidance on minimum water quality standards andantidegradation policies for protecting existing water quality. In response,in 1995, EPA published the  Final Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System , otherwise known as the GLI, to control over 100 toxic pollutants and protect aquatic life, wildlife, and human health. Through theGLI, EPA established stringent water quality criteria—numeric values tobe used by states to set pollutant discharge limits for point sources—for 9BCCs and 20 other pollutants found in the basin. In addition, the GLIestablished methodologies that the states are to use in developing criteriafor the remaining pollutants. Meeting the criteria established by GLIrequires sensitive analytical methods that allow measurement of pollutantconcentrations at or below the level established by GLI water qualitycriteria. These methods allow states to determine if a facility is exceedingthe criteria and if a discharge limit is required in the facility’s permit aswell as to assess the facility’s compliance. The Great Lakes Critical 1 The Great Lakes Basin includes the five Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario,and Erie—and a large land area that extends beyond the lakes, including their watersheds,tributaries and connecting channels. Page 1 Great Lakes Initiative    Programs Act required that the eight Great Lakes states—Illinois, Indiana,Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—adopt provisions consistent with GLI into their environmental regulationsand point source permit programs within 2 years of issuance of GLIguidance. As you requested, my testimony today focuses on (1) the status of EPA’sefforts to develop and approve methods needed to measure pollutants atthe GLI water quality criteria level, (2) the use of permit flexibilities, and(3) the actions EPA has taken to implement the recommendations wemade in our 2005 report on the GLI to better ensure full and consistentimplementation of GLI and monitor progress in meeting GLI goals. 2 Mytestimony is based on the 2005 report and additional information we haveobtained from EPA and the Great Lakes states. Our testimony primarilyfocuses on the nine BCCs for which EPA has developed GLI water qualitycriteria. Most of these BCCs are responsible for fish consumptionadvisories in the Great Lakes.We conducted this performance audit from October 2007 through January18, 2008 in accordance with generally accepted government auditingstandards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit toobtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis forour findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believethat the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findingsand conclusions based on our audit objectives. We determined that thedata provided were sufficiently reliable for purposes of this testimony.In summary: ã    As we reported in 2005, developing the sensitive analytical methodsneeded to determine whether GLI water quality criteria are being met isa significant challenge to fully achieving GLI’s goals. At the time of ourreport, a method that allowed measurement of the pollutant at orbelow the GLI criteria had been developed and approved for only twoof the nine BCCs—mercury and lindane. Mercury and lindane remainthe only BCCs for which an approved method is available thatmeasures pollutant concentrations below the GLI criterion. Once EPAapproves an analytical method, Great Lakes states are able to issue 2 GAO, Great Lakes Initiative: EPA Needs to Better Ensure the Complete and Consistent Implementation of Water Quality Standards, GAO-05-829(Washington, D.C.: July 27,2005). Page 2 Great Lakes Initiative
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