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^^Environmental News
Water Pollution Control Federation
Government Affairs Seminar
International Inn, Washington, D. C.
April 6. 1976
John R. Quarles, Jr.
Deputy Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
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EPA FORM 1510-f (REV. S>72>

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is a real pleasure to
be with you today to participate in this discussion of the final report
of the National Commission on Water Quality. I should say at the outset
that any effort to comment on such a massive undertaking within this
short time is difficult, but I welcome this chance to speak to some of
the central issues raised by the report.
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 estab-
lished an extremely complicated, highly ambitious program to clean up
the nation's waters. The Act established strict deadlines, which in
some cases have been impossible to meet. It mandated a variety of
specific program activities, some of which have not yet been success-
fully implemented. It laid down detailed requirements as to how the
programs should be carried out, some of which have impeded progress
toward the Act's principal goals. The report of the National Commission
intensively analyzes what has happened under this law, spotlights a great
many problems, and makes many recommendations for change.
In view of the massive scope of the national water pollution prob-
lem, the complexity of the statute, and the diversity of questions
raised concerning it, there is an initial question we must answer before
facing the specific issues. It is this: What is our basic attitude
concerning the effectiveness of the national program now underway?
Should we start out with the approach that major revisions, or only
minor adjustments, to the existing statute are required?
To put the problem in perspective, it might be useful to briefly
review just what has been accomplished since 1972. It is always

tempting to foctri on wh.it we have failed to accomplish in 'ems of the
statutory requir \ :nu, rather than on what has actually bcsn achieved.
Without	the t;any problems which remain to be solved, let us
look carefully a: our progress since October of 1572 when the statute
was enacted.
The design- cof the 1972 Act placed chief emphasis on industrial and
municipal point sources of water pollution. It directed that regulatory
requirements on these sources be sharply tightened, that enforcement
be streamlined, and that the Federal grant program for sewage treatment
plant construction be ambitiously expanded. Long strides toward these
goals have been raade.
Today, EPA and state agencies have issued regulatory permits setting
strict abatement requirements for over 20,000 industrial plants. These
have been individually drafted to require each plant to achieve best
practicable control technology and also to comply with water quality
standards. These permits require regular monitoring of discharges and
public disclosure of that data. Eighty-nine percent of the major
industrial dischargers now have final permits, and, of these, 83 percent
are in compliance with their abatement schedules. Permit conditions
are being carefully monitored and vigorously enforced. In half our
states legislation has been adopted to strengthen water pollution control
programs. In trree and one-half years we have advanced dramatically
from an earlier day when the prevailing standard was the vaguely
understood catch-phrase, "secondary treatment or its equivalent," when
enforcement was. "lax, and when "slippage" was all but universal.

In the municipal construction grant program, the 1972 Act called
for a new-three-step procedure for all projects and added many new
requirements in the planning and approval of new plants. EPA, state,
and local officials and others involved have labored to expand levels
of construction while meeting all these new requirements. In Fiscal
Year 1975 EPA obligated $3.6 billion for construction of these facili-
ties. This year we hope to obligate $4.5 billion. Though far less
than the statute called for, this more than 20 times the level of
Federal funds provided for 1970.
More important than these programmatic achievements, we are now
seeing visible improvements in water quality in many critical water-
ways. In Lake Erie, the Cuyahoga River, the Buffalo River, the Hudson
River, Escambia Bay, San Diego Harbor and many other places, signifi-
cant progress is evident. This progress is measured in real terms.
Fish are returning, beaches and shellfish beds are being reopened, the
foul stench of pollution is disappearing, and the water is cleaner to
the naked eye. Yes, we have begun to turn the corner in the national
battle against water pollution.
At the same time, this progress has not wrecked havoc in the
national economy. Industrial expenditures for water pollution control
have risen markedly, though not to the extent that many experts pre-
dicted. Very few plants have been forced to close on account of these
financial burdens, and construction of pollution control facilities
has created in essence a new industry within our economy, providing
many more jobs by far than those closed out or even threatened.

The 1972 Act called for many programs in addition to the two big
ones I have mentioned. Some of these have moved forward satisfactorily.
Others have not. Some changes doubtless are needed, and in the overall
effort certainly we need now to focus much more aggressively on non-
point sources and on toxic discharges than we have so far. But we
should not lose sight of this basic fact: the 1972 Act has achieved
its major objective -- to get this country moving to control water
pollution. We are making progress toward the goals of clean water
which Congress established, goals which are clearly in the public
As we review the range of program activities called for by the
statute, it is clear that the aggregate administrative burden on EPA and
state and local governments exceeded their capacity to perform within
the statutory deadlines. That does not necessarily mean, however,
that such programs won't work. We must ask in each case whether there
is a need for change or merely a need for time to complete the work.
In many cases we simply need to be more realistic in our expectations
as to timing. If we have bitten off more than we can chew in one bite,
the answer may be to keep chewing, not to spit it all out and start
I would now like to turn to several of the Commission's major
recommendations. First, the Commission recommended that the 1977 deadline
for industrial and municipal dischargers be relaxed on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, the Commission recommended that the 1977 requirements be

waived altogether in cases where the adverse environmental impact would
be minimal and costs are disproportionate to projected environmental
Regarding the extension of the 1977 deadline, while there may be
a few, exceptional cases where such action is warranted, I do not
believe that such extensions should be granted as a matter of course.
To do so would be tantamount to rewarding those dischargers who have
intentionally delayed complying with the 1977 requirements. It would
be totally unfair to the majority of companies which have made a good
faith effort to meet the 1977 deadline. Experience indicates that,
in general, the 1977 deadline for industrial dischargers was realistic
and can be achieved. Its integrity should be preserved. There will
be a few cases where the deadline now cannot be met. In these cases
some flexibility will be necessary, but not nearly the amount at least
suggested by the Commission's recommendations. Where such extensions
are necessary, Congress should also consider imposing some form of
economic incentive to encourage the discharger to achieve compliance
as rapidly as possible. Such an approach is now being actively con-
sidered under the Clean Air Act, and I believe it may be useful in
the water pollution program.
Second, and far more serious, the Commission recommended that the
1977 requirements be waived altogether in selected cases. Basically,
the Commission is recommending that a cost/benefit analysis be under-
taken for each discharger who is having difficulty meeting the 1977

requirements and if the costs appear to exceed the benefits, chat dis-
charger should be exempted from the requirements. This would open a
pandora's box. Congress specifically rejected such an approach in
passing the 1972 amendments when it abandoned reliance on the old water
quality standards. The reason was simple: It is administratively
impossible to measure the benefits of specific abatement actions by
every individual discharger on every specific waterway. Because of
this problem, Congress adopted a uniform, technology-linked standard
for all industrial dischargers. Moreover, this proposal, at this stage
in the process, is out of the question. Implementation of the 1977
requirements is already far advanced. By the time such a change in
requirements could be adopted by Congress and implemented, the July 1,
1977, deadline will be long passed. Thus the relief would be a reward
to the recalcitrant and a penalty to those who in good faith have com-
plied with the law. Even the prospect of Congress enacting such a
change would create a nightmare for EPA and the states. Such a pro-
vision would encourage virtually every discharger to hire economic con-
sultants to prepare a study showing that the cost of meeting the 1977
standards exceeds the benefits for his particular facility. Someone,
presumably EPA, would have to evaluate each of these studies. Mean-
while, no action would be taken to achieve compliance with the existing
permit. This could become the most powerful engine yet devised for
further delay. Once that door is opened, there can be only one result —
a wholesale effort to undermine the 1977 requirements.

I will turn now to what I consider the most important, and
troubling, recommendations by the Commission: those dealing with Phase
II of the program Congress established in the 1972 Act. The Commission
recommends that the 1983 goal of "fishable, swimmable" water be re-
tained, but suggests, in the same breath, that requirements needed to
attain the goal be delayed for not less than five nor more than ten
year* after 1983.
The Commission combines this recommendation for delay with a
suggestion that controls on toxic pollutants be accelerated and that
a new round of abatement requirements on toxics be implemented not
later than October 1, 1980. I find these recommendations mutually
inconsistent, undesirable, and hopelessly impractical.
I will begin with the proposal that achievement of fishable, swim-
mable water and best available treatment be postponed by up to a decade.
First, there is little or no support for such massive delay in the
staff report. That report states that "best available technology
economically achievable" — the basis for the 1983 requirements -- is,
generally, technologically attainable. The exception is short-term,
24-hour limitations in certain cases. In response to the question of
whether industrial dischargers can attain BAT by July 1, 1983, the
staff report states that (this) "depends upon (the) date the 1977
requirements are actually met and resolution of challenges to some
effluent limitations and permits." (Staff draft 1-29) The staff
report does recommend some delay in the 1983 attainment date, but nowhere
does it suggest that a five- or ten-year delay is needed.

Had the staff report found that the cost of achieving the 1983
requirements was exorbitant, there might be some Dasis for the Com-
mission's recommendation. However, in one of the major findings of
the study, the staff found that the cost of complying with the 1983
requirements was actually lower than the cost of complying with the
1977 requirements. Previously, it had been assured that the cost of
achieving the 1983 goal would be sharply higher than that of achieving
best practicable control technology. According to the staff report,
the cost of achieving BAT for those facilities in place as of June
1973 would be $23.0 billion as compared with $36.6 billion for comply-
ing with the 1977 requirements. What this suggests is that there are
no insuperable economic or technical barriers to achieving the 1983
requirements, and thus assuring all Americans of "fishable, swimmable"
water by that date or shortly thereafter.
Having recommended a substantial delay in the attainment date
for the 1983 requirements, the Commission recommended a number of
"interim" steps which it suggested as conditions for approving the
recommended delay. Basically, these amount to a periodic review and
upgrading, where possible, of the 1977 requirements, particularly in
those areas where the 1977 requirements are inadequate to achieve
water quality standards. What this means is that dischargers would
be encouraged to fight every effort to tighten the requirements,
rather than install better treatment technology. Also, this means
that regulatory agencies would be saddled with a heavy burden of
proof and forced to cross all the hurdles of cumbersome procedures

for each individual case. The Commission would substitut. water
quality standards and all the problems associated with the;n for the
existing technology-based standards. Stated simply, the Commission
would have us repudiate the approach Congress adopted in 1972 in favor
of the approach Congress rejected in 1972. It is unlikely under these
circumstances that genuine progress could occur.
»We must now take a hard look at the proposals concerning toxics.
The Commission oorrectly points out that toxic pollutants pose an
especially great hazard and there have been delays in developing effec-
tive controls for this class of pollutants. The Commission recommends
that "effluent limitations based on technology to eliminate the dis-
charge of toxic pollutants in toxic concentrations into the nation's
waters (be) implemented as soon as possible, but no later than
October 1, 1980."
With regard to this recommendation, one is tempted to say, "if
only it could be so." There is no question that control of toxic
pollutants is needed as soon as possible. The Agency has struggled
with this problem with scant success ever since the passage of the
1972 amendments. The chief problem is the existing statutory frame-
work. This is one place in the Act where a major overhaul is needed,
and the Commission apparently has recognized the problems in the
existing statutory provision, Section 307(a). Under current law EPA
must set national toxic effluent standards based partially on the
quality of receiving water. Because of the tremendous differences

between receiving waters and the impact of toxics in the cif+erent
waterways, it has been virtually impossible to set national effluent
limitations for these toxic pollutants. As the Commission has recog-
nized, we need technology-based effluent standards for this class of
This is not, however, the only problem with Section 307(a). The
current provision requires that any toxic effluent standard promulgated
by the Administrator take effect within one year after it is published.
In many cases, this is an impossible deadline for industry to meet.
In addition, the current provision requires the Administrator to hold
a formal adjudicatory hearing with full rights of cross-examination
prior to the promulgation of any effluent standard. These hearings
drag on for months, further delaying the process. For all these
reasons, Section 307(a) must be amended if EPA is to effectively con-
trol toxic pollutants.
Control of toxic pollutants cannot be disconnected from the
general program to control industrial pollution. Industries must be
able to plan and carry out abatement programs in a predictable and
orderly fashion. Nearly all major industries now have permits issued
during 1974 and 1975 setting forth their pollution control obligations.
Those permits will generally expire in 1978 and 1979. As those per-
mits are renewed, they will spell out the second round of tighter
control which the law requires to be completed by 1983. EPA is now
preparing to emphasize toxic control in that second round. We are
undertaking am ambitious effort to develop best available treatment
standards to control toxic pollutants, industry by industry. Those

standards will be completed at various times from 1977 through 1979.
On the basis of our experience in setting effluent guidelines for the
traditional, better understood pollutants (such as BOD, suspended
solids, acidity or temperature) and in view of the extreme complexity
of dealing with huge numbers of toxic pollutants, those schedules for
completing effluent guidelines for toxics cannot be foreshortened.
The process of translating national standards or guidance into thou-
sands of permits for individual plants, allowing time for public
hearings, administrative appeals, and judicial review will also inevi-
tably require one to two years at best.
As permits are reissued throughout the 1973-79 period, they will
in many cases embody the new effluent guideline requirements for
toxics. Where those standards have not been finalized, toxic controls
can be individually drafted for specific plants to apply the statutory
BAT objective, just as thousands of permits were written in 1974 before
the BPT effluent guidelines were completed. In either situation, the
stricter requirements will be imposed in an intelligent, orderly
manner, affording industry the fairness of a predictable schedule for
.control and moving forward effectively toward the goals of clean water
that Congress has established.
Any effort to jump ahead on the control of toxic pollutants will
disrupt this orderly process. The regulatory agencies are not ready
to move ahead that fast, and even if they were it would throw a monkey
wrench into the existing abatement programs. On the other side, any

delay in the 19S3 standards would also be extremely disruptive.
Achievement of tighter control over toxic pollutants is heavily depen-
dent on imposition of the best available technology standards. Any
thought that we could accelerate the former while delaying the latter
is bound to be disastrous.
There is one other major weakness in these various proposals by
the Commission -- they would return the national water pollution pro-
gram to the days of the moving target. As long as I have been in the
government critics have always complained that environmental standards
keep getting changed. Congress finally answered that criticism by
establishing an orderly, two-phase, ten-year program. Now some of the
same critics want to bring back the moving targets. It just doesn't
make sense.
I recognize that I have not dealt with many important recomenda-
tions -the Commission has made, and I do not mean to focus exclusively
on those with which I disagree. Let me say in passing that I generally
support the Commission's recommendation that control of the water
pollution program be further decentralized as long as the states have
adequate resources and the necessary commitment to get the job done.
I also agree that Congress should reexamine the rationale and actual
performance of the user charge, industrial cost recovery, and pre-
treatment provisions of the Act. Our experience has shown that these
are good ideas on paper, but have been difficult to implement in
practice. The Commission has also raised several important questions
concerning the entire program for municipal sewage treatment plant

Yet I believe the issues I have discussed are the most important.
If Congress were to adopt the most far-reaching proposals by the
National Commission on Water Quality to knock several loopholes through
the 1977 requirements and to postpone the 1983 objectives by as much
as ten years, it would undermine the entire national effort to control
water pollution. The psychological impact of such changes would blunt
the momentum of everything we are doing today to restore clean water
to the American people. I believe that this type of backward step is
unnecessary from a financial viewpoint, destructive from an environ-
mental viewpoint, and in terms of the overall public interest just
plain wrong.
We have been working in this country for several decades to
achieve an effective water pollution control effort. Now we are in
the middle of a comprehensive program that seems to be achieving
success. We can see visible progress, but we know we have a long way
to go. Many of our waterways continue to be dreadfully polluted. We
must also worry about future growth offsetting the gains we have made.
We know that far greater control can be within our grasp without dis-
ruptive economic or social effects, and that many severe pollution
problems still urgently demand attention. Now more clearly than ever
before, the question is npt whether we are able to obtain clean water
but whether we want to. If we truly want to heal our damage to Nature,
if we really want to restore the fresh, sparkling vitality of our
nation's waters, surely now is not the time to start to walk off the job.