[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 171 (Wednesday, September 4, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 54517-54546]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-21140]



[[Page 54517]]

Vol. 78

Wednesday,

No. 171

September 4, 2013

Part II





Environmental Protection Agency





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40 CFR Part 131





Water Quality Standards Regulatory Clarifications; Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 171 / Wednesday, September 4, 2013 / 
Proposed Rules

[[Page 54518]]


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ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

40 CFR Part 131

[EPA-HQ-OW-2010-0606; FRL-9839-7]
RIN 2040-AF 16


Water Quality Standards Regulatory Clarifications

AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing changes 
to the federal water quality standards (WQS) regulation which helps 
implement the Clean Water Act. The changes will improve the 
regulation's effectiveness in restoring and maintaining the chemical, 
physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters. The EPA is 
seeking comments from interested parties on these proposed revisions. 
The core of the current regulation has been in place since 1983; since 
then, a number of issues have been raised by states, tribes, or 
stakeholders or identified by the EPA in the implementation process 
that will benefit from clarification and greater specificity. The 
proposed rule addresses the following key program areas: 
Administrator's determinations that new or revised WQS are necessary, 
designated uses, triennial reviews, antidegradation, variances to WQS, 
and compliance schedule authorizing provisions.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before December 3, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Submit your comments, identified by Docket identification 
(ID) No. EPA-HQ-OW-2010-0606, by one of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
     Email: ow-docket@epa.gov.
     Mail: Water Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail 
Code 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20460. 
Attention: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2010-0606.
     Hand Delivery: EPA Docket Center, EPA West Room 3334, 1301 
Constitution Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20004, Attention: Docket ID No. 
EPA-HQ-OW-2010-0606. Such deliveries are only accepted during the 
Docket Center's normal hours of operation. Special arrangements should 
be made for deliveries of boxed information by calling 202-566-2426.
    Instructions: Direct your comments to Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2010-
0606. The EPA's policy is that all comments received will be included 
in the public docket without change and may be made available online at 
http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information 
provided, unless the comment includes information claimed to be 
Confidential Business Information (CBI) or other information whose 
disclosure is restricted by statute. Do not submit information that you 
consider to be CBI or otherwise protected through http://www.regulations.gov or email. The http://www.regulations.gov Web site 
is an ``anonymous access'' system, which means the EPA will not know 
your identity or contact information unless you provide it in the body 
of your comment. If you send an email comment directly to the EPA 
without going through www.regulations.gov your email address will be 
automatically captured and included as part of the comment that is 
placed in the public docket and made available on the Internet. If you 
submit an electronic comment, the EPA recommends that you include your 
name and other contact information in the body of your comment and with 
any disc you submit. If the EPA cannot read your comment due to 
technical difficulties and cannot contact you for clarification, the 
EPA may not be able to consider your comment. Electronic files should 
avoid the use of special characters, any form of encryption, and be 
free of any defects or viruses. For additional information about the 
EPA's public docket visit the Docket Center homepage at http://www.epa.gov/epahome/dockets.htm.
    Docket: All documents in the docket are listed in the http://www.regulations.gov index. Although listed in the index, some 
information is not publicly available (e.g., CBI or other information 
whose disclosure is restricted by statute). Certain other materials, 
such as copyrighted material, will be publicly available only in hard 
copy. Publicly available docket materials are available either 
electronically in http://www.regulations.gov or in hard copy at the 
Office of Water Docket Center, EPA/DC, EPA West, Room 3334, 1301 
Constitution Ave. NW., Washington, DC. The Public Reading Room is open 
from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding legal 
holidays. The telephone number for the Public Reading Room is (202) 
566-1744; the telephone number for the Office of Water Docket Center is 
(202) 566-2426.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Janita Aguirre, Standards and Health 
Protection Division, Office of Science and Technology (4305T), 
Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., 
Washington, DC 20460; telephone number: 202-566-1860; fax number: 202-
566-0409; email address: WQSRegulatoryClarifications@epa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This supplementary information section is 
organized as follows:

Table of Contents

I. General Information
    A. Does this action apply to me?
    B. What should I consider as I prepare my comments for the EPA?
II. Background
    A. What is the statutory and regulatory history of the WQS 
regulation and program?
    B. How has the public provided EPA input on the national WQS 
Program in the past?
    C. Why is the EPA proposing changes to the federal WQS 
regulation?
III. Program Areas for Proposed Regulatory Clarifications
    A. Introduction
    B. Administrator's Determinations That New or Revised WQS Are 
Necessary
    C. Designated Uses
    D. Requirements of Triennial Reviews
    E. Antidegradation Implementation
    F. WQS Variances
    G. Provisions Authorizing the Use of Permit-Based Compliance 
Schedules
    H. Other Changes
IV. When does this action take effect?
V. Economic Impacts on State and Tribal WQS Programs
VI. Statutory and Executive Order Reviews
    A. Executive Order 12866: Regulatory Planning and Review and 
Executive Order 13563: Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review
    B. Paperwork Reduction Act
    C. Regulatory Flexibility Act
    D. Unfunded Mandates Reform Act
    E. Executive Order 13132 (Federalism)
    F. Executive Order 13175
    G. Executive Order 13045: Protection of Children From 
Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks
    H. Executive Order 13211: Actions Concerning Regulations That 
Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use
    I. National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act
    J. Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions To Address 
Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income 
Populations

I. General Information

A. Does this action apply to me?

    State and tribal governments responsible for administering or 
overseeing water quality programs may be directly affected by this 
rulemaking, as states and authorized tribes\1\ may

[[Page 54519]]

need to consider and implement new provisions, or revise existing 
provisions, in their water quality standards (WQS or standards). 
Entities such as industrial dischargers or publicly owned treatment 
works that discharge pollutants to waters of the United States may be 
indirectly affected by this rulemaking because WQS may be used in 
determining permit limits under the National Pollutant Discharge 
Elimination System (NPDES) or in implementing other Clean Water Act 
(CWA or the Act) regulatory programs. Citizens concerned with water 
quality and WQS implementation may also be interested in this 
rulemaking, although they might not be directly impacted. Categories 
and entities that may potentially be affected include the following:
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    \1\ Hereafter referred to as ``states and authorized tribes'' or 
``states and tribes.'' ``State'' in the Clean Water Act and this 
document refers to a state, the District of Columbia, the 
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American 
Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

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                                        Examples of potentially affected
               Category                             entities
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States and Tribes....................  States and authorized tribes
                                        (tribes eligible to administer
                                        WQS under the CWA).
Industry.............................  Industries discharging pollutants
                                        to waters of the United States.
Municipalities.......................  Publicly owned treatment works or
                                        other facilities discharging
                                        pollutants to waters of the
                                        United States.
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    This table is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather provides a 
guide for entities that may be directly or indirectly affected by this 
action. It lists the types of entities of which the EPA is aware could 
be potentially affected by this action. Other types of entities not 
listed in the table might be affected through implementation of WQS 
that are revised as a result of this rule. If you have questions 
regarding the applicability of this action to a particular entity, 
consult the person listed in the preceding FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT section.

B. What should I consider as I prepare my comments for the EPA?

1. Resubmitting Relevant Comments From 2010 Stakeholder and Public 
Listening Sessions
    From August through December 2010, the EPA held multiple listening 
sessions with stakeholders and the public, as well as consultation 
sessions with states, tribes, and representatives of state and local 
elected officials, concerning the general directions of this proposed 
rule. The EPA considered the views and comments received from these 
sessions in developing this proposal. The proposal published today has 
evolved substantially from the materials the EPA shared at that time. 
If you submitted comments in response to any of those sessions and wish 
for these comments to be considered during the public comment period 
for this proposed rulemaking, you must resubmit such comments to the 
EPA in accordance with the instructions outlined in this document.
2. Submitting Confidential Business Information (CBI)
    Do not submit this information to the EPA through http://www.regulations.gov or email. Clearly mark the part or all of the 
information that you claim to be CBI. For CBI information in a disc 
that you mail to the EPA, mark the outside of the disc as CBI and then 
identify electronically within the disc the specific information that 
is claimed as CBI. In addition to one complete version of the comment 
that includes information claimed as CBI, a copy of the comment that 
does not contain the information claimed as CBI must be submitted for 
inclusion in the public docket. Information so marked will not be 
disclosed except in accordance with procedures set forth in 40 Code of 
Federal Regulations (CFR) part 2.
3. Tips for Preparing Your Comments
    When submitting comments, remember to:
     Identify the rulemaking by docket number and other 
identifying information (subject heading, Federal Register date and 
page number).
     Follow directions. The agency may ask you to respond to 
specific questions or organize comments by referencing a CFR part or 
section number.
     Submit any and all comments on any portion of the 
rulemaking that you wish to be considered.
     Explain why you agree or disagree, suggest alternatives, 
and substitute language for your requested changes.
     Describe any assumptions and provide any technical 
information and/or data that you used.
     If you provide an estimate of potential costs or burdens, 
explain how you arrived at your estimate in sufficient detail to allow 
for it to be reproduced.
     Provide specific examples to illustrate your concerns, and 
suggest alternatives.
     Explain your views as clearly as possible.
     Make sure to submit your comments by the comment period 
deadline identified.

II. Background

A. What is the statutory and regulatory history of the WQS regulation 
and program?

    The CWA--initially enacted as the Federal Water Pollution Control 
Act Amendments of 1972 (Pub. L. 92-500) and subsequent amendments--
establishes the basic structure in place today for regulating pollutant 
discharges into the waters of the United States. In the Act, Congress 
established the national objective to ``restore and maintain the 
chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters,'' 
and to achieve ``wherever attainable, an interim goal of water quality 
which provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, 
and wildlife and for recreation in and on the water'' (sections 101(a) 
and 101(a)(2)).
    The CWA establishes the basis for the current WQS regulation and 
program. Section 301 of the Act provides that ``the discharge of any 
pollutant by any person shall be unlawful'' except in compliance with 
specific requirements of Title III and IV of the Act, including 
industrial and municipal effluent limitations specified under section 
304 and ``any more stringent limitation, including those necessary to 
meet WQS, treatment standards or schedule of compliance established 
pursuant to any State law or regulation.'' Section 303(c) of the Act 
addresses the development of state and authorized tribal WQS and 
provides for the following:
    (1) WQS shall consist of designated uses and water quality criteria 
based upon such uses;
    (2) States and authorized tribes shall establish WQS considering 
the following possible uses for their waters--propagation of fish, 
shellfish and wildlife, recreational purposes, public water supply, 
agricultural and

[[Page 54520]]

industrial water supplies, navigation, and other uses;
    (3) State and tribal standards must protect public health or 
welfare, enhance the quality of water, and serve the purposes of the 
Act;
    (4) States and tribes must review their standards at least once 
every 3 years; and
    (5) The EPA is required to review any new or revised state and 
tribal standards, and is also required to promulgate federal standards 
where the EPA finds that new or revised state or tribal standards are 
not consistent with applicable requirements of the Act or in situations 
where the Administrator determines that federal standards are necessary 
to meet the requirements of the Act.
    The EPA established the core of the current WQS regulation in a 
final rule issued in 1983.\2\ This rule strengthened previous 
provisions that had been in place since 1977 and moved them to a new 40 
CFR part 131 (54 FR 51400, November 8, 1983). The resulting regulation 
describes how the WQS envisioned in the CWA are to be administered. It 
clarifies the content of standards and establishes more detailed 
provisions for implementing the provisions of the Act. The following 
are examples of how the regulation has interpreted and implemented the 
CWA provisions regarding standards:
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    \2\ In this preamble, the EPA uses the term ``water quality 
standards regulation'' to mean subparts A, B, and C of part 131. 
These three subparts, comprising Sec. Sec.  131.1 through 131.22, 
contain general provisions, requirements for establishing standards, 
and procedures for review and revision of standards, respectively. 
Part 131 also includes a subpart D that contains the text of WQS the 
EPA has promulgated to replace or augment state and tribal 
standards.
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     Establishes procedures to recognize the importance of 
designating beneficial uses to achieve the CWA section 101(a)(2) 
interim goal with regard to protecting aquatic life and recreational 
uses, and to provide states and tribes the option of establishing sub-
categories of uses, such as cold water and warm water aquatic life 
designations (Sec.  131.10).
     Provides detail concerning the adoption of numeric water 
quality criteria, including authorizing the modification of the EPA's 
national recommended criteria to reflect site-specific conditions, the 
use of criteria methodologies different from the EPA's recommendations 
so long as they are scientifically defensible, and the use of narrative 
criteria where numeric criteria cannot be derived or to supplement 
numeric criteria (Sec.  131.11).
     Incorporates and clarifies the Act's emphasis on the 
importance of preserving existing uses and identifying and preserving 
high quality and outstanding resource waters through longstanding 
antidegradation provisions. These provisions are designed to protect 
existing uses and the level of water quality necessary to support these 
uses; to protect high quality waters and provide a transparent analytic 
process for states and tribes to determine whether limited degradation 
of such waters is appropriate and necessary (Sec.  131.12).
    In support of the 1983 regulation, the EPA has issued a number of 
guidance documents, such as the ``Water Quality Standards Handbook'' 
(WQS Handbook),\3\ that have provided guidance on the interpretation 
and implementation of the WQS regulation, and on scientific and 
technical analyses that are used in making decisions that would impact 
WQS. The EPA also developed the ``Technical Support Document for Water 
Quality-Based Toxics Control'' \4\ (TSD) that provided additional 
guidance for implementing state and tribal WQS.
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    \3\ First edition, December 1983; second edition, EPA 823-B-94-
005a, August 1994.
    \4\ First edition, EPA 440/4-85-032, September 1985; revised 
edition, EPA 505/2-90-001, March 1991.
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    The part 131 regulation has been modified twice since 1983. First, 
in 1991 the EPA added Sec. Sec.  131.7 and 131.8 regarding tribes, 
pursuant to section 518 of the CWA (56 FR 64893, December 12, 1991). 
Section 518, which was enacted in 1987, included provisions extending 
the ability to participate in the WQS program to Indian tribes. Second, 
in 2000 the EPA promulgated Sec.  131.21(c), commonly known as the 
``Alaska Rule,'' to clarify that new and revised standards adopted by 
states and tribes and submitted to the EPA after May 30, 2000 become 
applicable standards for CWA purposes only when approved by the EPA (65 
FR 24641, April 27, 2000).

B. How has the public provided EPA input on the national WQS Program in 
the past?

    The EPA received comments, data, and information from over 6,000 
commenters in developing ``Final Water Quality Guidance for the Great 
Lakes System'' in 1995 (60 FR 15366, March 23, 1995). The final 
Guidance represented more than six years of intensive, cooperative 
efforts that included participation by the eight Great Lakes states, 
the EPA, and other Federal agencies in open dialogue with citizens, 
local governments, municipalities, academia, the environmental 
community, and industries located in the Great Lakes ecosystem. This 
process entailed a thorough review and analysis of the federal water 
quality program and opportunities for greater clarity, focus, and 
improved implementation. The final Guidance is codified in 40 CFR part 
132 and helps establish consistent, enforceable, and long-term 
protections from all types of pollutants, with short-term emphasis on 
the types of bio-accumulative contaminants that accumulate in the food 
web and pose a threat to the Great Lakes System. While not all 
provisions of the Final Guidance may be necessary or appropriate for 
the national Water Quality Standards Program, the EPA considered the 
input received from the public through the development of the Final 
Guidance during the preparation of this proposed rule.
    In 1998, the EPA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking 
(ANPRM) to discuss and invite comment on over 130 aspects of the 
federal WQS regulation and program, with a goal of identifying specific 
changes that might strengthen water quality protection and restoration, 
facilitate watershed management initiatives, and incorporate evolving 
water quality criteria and assessment science into state and tribal WQS 
programs. (63 FR 36742, July 7, 1998). In response, the EPA received 
over 3,200 specific written comments from over 150 comment letters. The 
EPA also held three public meetings during the 180-day comment period 
where additional comments were received and discussed.
    Although the EPA chose not to move forward with a rulemaking after 
the ANRPM, as a result of the input received, the EPA identified a 
number of high priority issue areas for which the Agency has developed 
guidance, provided technical assistance and continued further 
discussion and dialogue to assure more effective program 
implementation. For example, many ANPRM commenters expressed the need 
for additional assistance on establishing designated uses of water 
bodies and the process to follow when making designated uses more or 
less protective. In order to receive input from a broad set of 
stakeholders on these topics, the EPA held a follow-up national 
symposium on designated uses on June 3-4, 2002 in Washington, DC. 
Approximately 200 interested citizens, government officials, and 
regulated parties attended this open meeting, which included 
presentations from a variety of stakeholders and an expert panel 
representing different

[[Page 54521]]

viewpoints.\5\ In addition, the EPA held four co-regulator workshops 
between February 2005 and April 2006 with state, interstate, and tribal 
partners, and gathered further input and feedback on the establishment, 
adjustment, and implementation of designated uses.\6\
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    \5\ Proceedings from the national symposium on designated uses 
can be found at http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/uses/symposium_index.cfm.
    \6\ A summary of the co-regulator workshops and a link to the 
use attainability analysis (UAA) case studies can be found at http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/uses/uaa/info.cfm.
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C. Why is the EPA proposing changes to the Federal WQS regulation?

    The core requirements of the current WQS regulation have been in 
place for over 30 years. These requirements have provided a strong 
foundation for water quality-based controls, including water quality 
assessments, impaired waters lists, and total maximum daily loads 
(TMDLs) under CWA section 303(d), as well as for water quality-based 
effluent limits (WQBELs) in NPDES discharge permits under CWA section 
402. As with the development and operation of any program, however, a 
number of policy and technical issues have recurred over the past 30 
years in individual standards reviews, stakeholder comments, and 
litigation that the EPA believes would be addressed and resolved more 
efficiently by clarifying, updating and revising the federal WQS 
regulation to assure greater public transparency, better stakeholder 
information, and more effective implementation.
    From 2008 through 2010, the EPA held ongoing discussions with state 
and tribal partners and other stakeholders. These discussions addressed 
a wide-range of issues, from which a subset has been identified as 
significant areas of continuing concern. In 2010, the EPA held 
listening sessions with the public, states and tribes to obtain 
feedback on this subset of issues. The agenda, background material, 
list of participants and the public transcripts may be viewed at http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/wqs_listening.cfm#records. 
Section III of the EPA's proposal describes the key areas the EPA has 
chosen to address based on input received and the EPA's proposed 
regulatory approaches. The EPA believes that states, tribes, other 
stakeholders, and the public will benefit from clarification in these 
key areas to better understand and make proper use of available CWA 
tools and flexibilities, while maintaining open and transparent public 
participation. Clear regulatory requirements and improved 
implementation will provide a more transparent and well-defined pathway 
for restoring and maintaining the biological, chemical, and physical 
integrity of the nation's waters. The changes the EPA is proposing 
today add or modify specific regulatory provisions to address key areas 
described below.

III. Program Areas for Proposed Regulatory Clarifications

A. Introduction

    As discussed in section II.C, the EPA has had ongoing dialogue with 
states, tribes and stakeholders on key issues that are central to 
assuring effective implementation of the WQS program. As part of this 
process, the Agency has considered several fundamental questions in 
evaluating opportunities to improve implementation of the WQS program 
including which recurring implementation issues would benefit most from 
a regulatory clarification or update, whether there are emerging issues 
that could be more effectively addressed through regulatory revisions, 
whether the regulation continues to have the appropriate balance of 
consistency and flexibility for states and tribes, and whether the 
resulting program effectively facilitates public participation in 
standards decisions.
    As a result of this evaluation and consideration of continuing 
input from states, tribes and stakeholders, the EPA is proposing 
changes to key program areas of its WQS regulation at 40 CFR part 131 
that the Agency believes will result in improved regulatory clarity and 
more effective program implementation, and lead to environmental 
improvements in water quality. This proposed rulemaking requests 
comment on regulatory revisions in the following six key issue areas: 
(1) Administrator's determination that new or revised WQS are 
necessary, (2) designated uses, (3) triennial reviews, (4) 
antidegradation, (5) WQS variances, and (6) compliance schedule 
authorizing provisions.

B. Administrator's Determinations That New or Revised WQS Are Necessary

1. The EPA Proposal
    The EPA is proposing to amend paragraph (b) of Sec.  131.22 to add 
a requirement that an Administrator's determination must be signed by 
the Administrator or his or her duly authorized delegate, and must 
include a statement that the document is a determination for purposes 
of section 303(c)(4)(B) of the Act.
2. Background and Rationale for Revision
    Section 303(c)(4)(B) of the CWA provides the EPA Administrator with 
authority to determine that a new or revised WQS is necessary to meet 
the CWA requirements, typically in those situations where a state or 
tribe fails or is unable to act in a manner consistent with the CWA. 
Such a determination is made at the Administrator's discretion, after 
evaluating all relevant factors. An Administrator's determination 
triggers the requirement for the EPA to promptly prepare and publish 
proposed regulations setting forth a revised or new WQS for the waters 
of the United States involved, and for the EPA to promulgate such WQS 
unless the state or tribe adopts and the EPA approves such WQS before 
the EPA promulgation.
    The EPA is concerned that the process whereby the Administrator 
determines that new or revised standards are necessary is not always 
clearly understood or interpreted by the public and stakeholders. In 
some instances, this lack of understanding has led to a mistaken 
conclusion that the EPA has made a CWA 303(c)(4)(B) determination when, 
in fact, the EPA did not make nor intend to make a determination. For 
example, Agency memoranda or documents articulating areas where states' 
WQS may need improvements have sometimes been construed or alleged by 
stakeholders to be official Administrator determinations that obligate 
the EPA to propose and promulgate federal WQS for such states. In order 
to ensure effective implementation of the national WQS program, to 
provide direct, clear, and transparent feedback on state and tribal 
actions, and to maintain an open and constructive dialogue with states, 
tribes and stakeholders on important water quality issues, it is 
essential that the EPA have the ability to provide feedback, and states 
and tribes have the opportunity to consider and evaluate the Agency's 
views, without fear of litigation triggering a duty on the part of the 
EPA to propose and promulgate WQS before either a state, tribe or the 
Agency believes such a course is appropriate or necessary.
    The EPA believes that this revision would establish a more 
transparent process for the Administrator to announce any determination 
made under section 303(c)(4)(B) of the Act. Such a revision will allow 
the EPA to effectively provide direct and specific written 
recommendations to states and tribes on areas where WQS improvements 
should be considered,

[[Page 54522]]

without the possibility that such recommendations will be construed as 
a determination that obligates the EPA to propose and promulgate new or 
revised standards.
    The public's ability under Section 553(e) of the Administrative 
Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553(e)) to petition the EPA to issue, amend, or 
repeal a rule, would not be affected by this proposed revision.
    The EPA invites comments on the proposed amendment to paragraph (b) 
of Sec.  131.22. The EPA also invites comment on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.

C. Designated Uses

1. The EPA Proposal
    First, the EPA is proposing to amend paragraph (g) at Sec.  131.10 
to provide that where a state or tribe adopts new or revised water 
quality standards based on a use attainability analysis (UAA), it must 
adopt the highest attainable use (HAU). States and tribes must also 
adopt criteria, as specified in Sec.  131.11(a), to protect that use. 
The EPA is also proposing to add a definition of HAU at Sec.  131.3(m). 
Specifically, the EPA is proposing to define HAU as ``the aquatic life, 
wildlife, and/or recreation use that is both closest to the uses 
specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act and attainable, as determined 
using best available data and information through a use attainability 
analysis defined in Sec.  131.3(g).''
    Second, the EPA is making appropriate edits to Sec.  131.10(g) to 
be clear that the factors listed in Sec.  131.10(g) must be used when a 
UAA is required by Sec.  131.10(j), and is restructuring Sec.  
131.10(k) to clearly articulate when a UAA is not required.
2. Background
    Designated uses communicate a state's or tribe's environmental 
management objectives for its waters and drive on-the-ground water 
quality decision-making and improvements. To establish appropriate WQS, 
states and tribes define the water quality goals of a water body first 
by designating the use(s) and second by setting criteria that protect 
those uses. WQS are the foundation for other CWA requirements 
applicable to a water body, such as WQBELs for point source 
dischargers, as well as assessment of waters and establishment of TMDLs 
for waters not meeting applicable WQS. Designated uses play such an 
important role in the effective implementation of the CWA. The EPA 
believes it is essential to provide clear and concise regulatory 
requirements for states and tribes to follow (1) when adopting a use 
specified in section 101(a)(2) or sub-categories of such uses for a 
water body for the first time, or (2) when removing or revising a 
currently adopted use specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act, or a 
sub-category of such a use. This is particularly important in light of 
recurring input and questions on this issue and the potential for 
conflicting interpretations and inconsistent case-by-case WQS program 
implementation.
    Under section 303 (33 U.S.C. 1313) of the CWA, states and 
authorized tribes are required to develop WQS for waters of the United 
States within their state. WQS shall include designated use or uses to 
be made of the water and criteria to protect those uses. Such standards 
shall be established taking into consideration the use and value of 
waters for public water supplies, propagation of fish and wildlife, 
recreation, agricultural uses, industrial uses, navigation and other 
purposes (CWA 303(c)(2)(A)). Designated uses are defined at 40 CFR 
131.3(f) as the ``uses specified in water quality standards for each 
water body or segment whether or not they are being attained.'' A 
``use'' is a particular function of, or activity in, a particular water 
body that requires a specific level of water quality.
    Section 101(a)(2) of the CWA establishes the national goal that 
``wherever attainable, an interim goal of water quality which provides 
for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and 
provides for recreation in and on the water'' be achieved by July 1, 
1983. CWA section 303(c)(2)(A) requires state and tribal WQS to 
``protect the public health or welfare, enhance the quality of the 
water and serve the purposes of this [Act].'' The WQS regulation at 40 
CFR part 131 interprets and implements these provisions through 
requirements that WQS protect the uses specified in section 101(a)(2) 
of the Act unless those uses are shown to be unattainable, effectively 
creating a rebuttable presumption of attainability.\7\ Thus, it has 
been the EPA's interpretation that the uses specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the Act are presumed attainable unless a state or tribe 
affirmatively demonstrates through a UAA\8\ that 101(a)(2) uses are not 
attainable as provided by one of six regulatory factors at Sec.  
131.10(g).\9\
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    \7\ See 40 CFR 131.2; 131.5(a)(4); 131.6(a),(f); 131.10(g), (j), 
(k).
    \8\ See 40 CFR 131.3(g). A UAA is a structured scientific 
assessment of the factors affecting the attainment of the use that 
may include physical, chemical, biological, and economic factors as 
described in Sec.  131.10(g).
    \9\ EPA's ``rebuttable presumption'' that the uses specified in 
CWA section 101(a)(2) are presumed attainable, unless demonstrated 
to be unattainable through a UAA, has been upheld in Idaho Mining 
Association v. Browner, 90 F. Supp. 2d 1078 (D. Idaho 2000).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The current WQS regulation at 40 CFR 131.10 requires states and 
tribes to specify appropriate uses to be achieved and protected; 
requires that WQS ensure attainment and maintenance of WQS of 
downstream waters; allows for sub-categories of uses (e.g., to 
differentiate between cold water and warm water fisheries) and seasonal 
uses; describes when uses are attainable; lists six factors of which at 
least one must be satisfied to justify removal of uses specified in 
Section 101(a)(2) that are not existing uses; prohibits removal of 
existing uses; requires states and authorized tribes to revise WQS to 
reflect uses that are presently being attained but not designated; and 
establishes when a state or tribe is or is not required to conduct a 
UAA. States and tribes have flexibility when managing their designated 
uses consistent with the CWA and implementing regulation.
    More specifically, the current WQS regulation requires a UAA when 
designating uses that do not include the uses specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the CWA, when removing a designated use specified in 
section 101(a)(2) of the Act, or when adopting sub-categories of such 
uses that require less stringent criteria. The phrase ``uses specified 
in section 101(a)(2) of the Act'' refers to uses that provide for the 
protection and propagation of fish (including aquatic invertebrates), 
shellfish, and wildlife, and recreation in and on the water, as well as 
for the protection of human health when consuming fish, shellfish, and 
other aquatic life.\10\ ``Sub-category of a use specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the Act'' refers to any use that reflects the subdivision 
of uses specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act into smaller, more 
homogenous groups of waters with the intent of reducing variability 
within the group. 40 CFR 131.10(c) provides that states and authorized 
tribes may adopt sub-categories of a use and set the appropriate 
criteria to reflect varying needs of such sub-categories of uses. 
States and tribes have broad discretion to determine the appropriate 
level of specificity to use in identifying and defining designated 
uses, and nothing in this proposal is intended to narrow that 
discretion. However, the EPA has found that the clearer, more accurate, 
and

[[Page 54523]]

refined the designated uses are in describing the state's or tribe's 
objective for a water body, the more effective those use designations 
can be in driving the management actions necessary to restore and 
protect water quality.\11\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \10\ http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/upload/2000_10_31_standards_shellfish.pdf.
    \11\ EPA notes that a use may meet the description of a ``sub-
category of a use specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act,'' but 
not provide an equal level of protection as a use specified in 
section 101(a)(2) of the Act. If a state wishes to designate such a 
sub-category, a UAA would be required, consistent with Sec.  
131.10(j).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The current regulation at Sec.  131.10(g) and (h)(1) provides that 
states and tribes may not remove a designated use if it would also 
remove an existing use unless a use requiring more stringent criteria 
is added. Existing uses are ``those uses actually attained in the water 
body on or after November 28, 1975, whether or not they are included in 
the water quality standards.'' Existing uses are known to be 
``attained'' when both the use and the water quality necessary to 
support the use has been achieved.\12\ The EPA recognizes, however, 
that all the necessary data may not be available. Where data may be 
limited, inconclusive, or not available, states and tribes have 
discretion to determine whether an existing use has been attained, 
based on either the use or the water quality. It is important to note 
that the prohibition on removing an existing use is not intended to 
apply to a situation where the state or tribe wishes to remove a use 
where removal would result in improving the condition of a water body. 
The intent of the regulation is to further the objective in CWA section 
101(a) to ``restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological 
integrity'' of the nation's waters, not to prevent actions that make 
the water body more like its minimally impacted condition. For example, 
if a warm water fishery exists behind a dam, the existing use provision 
would not prevent the state from removing that dam because doing so 
would likely restore the natural cold water aquatic ecosystem.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \12\ See http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/upload/Smithee-existing-uses-2008-09-23.pdf.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

3. Rationale for Revision
Adoption of Highest Attainable Use
    As discussed above, states and tribes have flexibility to designate 
and revise uses in accordance with the provisions of Sec.  131.10 which 
implements the requirement in 303(c)(2)(A) that standards shall be set 
to serve the purposes of the Act as set forth in Section) 101(a)(2) and 
303(c)(2)(A). However, the EPA believes that it may be appropriate to 
provide greater clarity in the regulations implementing this 
requirement. For example, as part of the UAA process, a state or tribe 
may be able to demonstrate that a use supporting a particular class of 
aquatic life is not attainable. However, if some less sensitive aquatic 
organisms are able to survive at the site under current or attainable 
future conditions, the goals of the CWA are not served by simply 
removing the aquatic life use designation and applicable criteria 
without determining whether there is some alternate 101(a)(2) use or 
subcategory of such a use that is feasible to attain. The UAA process 
can be used to identify the highest aquatic life use that is attainable 
(i.e., highest attainable use). Under this proposal, the state or tribe 
would be required to designate that highest attainable use. However, as 
noted above, states and tribes have broad discretion to determine the 
appropriate level of specificity to use in identifying and defining 
designated uses, and nothing in this proposal is intended to narrow 
that discretion. To further clarify this in rule text, the proposal 
would add the following language to 131.10(g): ``To meet this 
requirement, States may, at their discretion, utilize their current use 
categories or subcategories, develop new use categories or 
subcategories, or adopt another use which may include a location-
specific use.'' Thus, while a state or tribe may wish to establish a 
new or revised use category or subcategory to meet the proposed HAU 
requirement, the state or tribe could also comply with this requirement 
by adopting the highest attainable use from its currently established 
use categories or subcategories or by adopting a location-specific use, 
or another defensible approach.
    The EPA's current regulation at 40 CFR 131.6(a) requires that each 
state's or tribe's water quality standards submitted to the EPA for 
review must include ``use designations consistent with the provisions 
of sections 101(a)(2) and 303(c)(2) of the Act.'' Sections 131.10(g) 
and 131.10(j) implement the CWA by authorizing a state or tribe to 
designate uses that do not include the uses specified in section 
101(a)(2) or to remove protection for a use specified in section 
101(a)(2) (or subcategory of such a use) only through a UAA. If the 
state or tribe demonstrates through a UAA that a 101(a)(2) use, or a 
subcategory of such a use, is not attainable, then in order to comply 
with this regulatory requirement, the state or tribe will need to adopt 
use designations that continue to serve the 101(a)(2) goal by 
protecting the highest attainable use unless the state or tribe has 
shown that no use specified in section 101(a)(2) is attainable.
    This proposal is intended to clearly articulate a requirement to 
adopt the HAU in the EPA's regulation. HAU is defined in this proposal 
as ``the aquatic life, wildlife, and/or recreation use that is both 
closest to the uses specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act and 
attainable, as determined using best available data and information 
through a use attainability analysis defined in Sec.  131.3(g).'' With 
this definition, the EPA recognizes and affirms the primary role 
accorded to states and tribes under the CWA in establishing categories 
of designated uses and assigning those uses to specific water bodies 
within their jurisdiction. The EPA intends for states and tribes to use 
their existing use classification scheme to meet the HAU requirement 
whenever the state or tribe determines that it is appropriate to do so. 
The EPA is not requiring states and tribes to revise their use 
categorization scheme by developing new use categories or 
subcategories, although states and tribes are encouraged to develop 
them if they find it practical and appropriate to do so. While the EPA 
believes that there is often value in specifying more narrowly targeted 
aquatic life uses (e.g., warm water or cold water fishery), the EPA 
also recognizes that it may not be practical for states or tribes to 
adopt fine gradations of aquatic life uses in many cases. The proposed 
rule would thus not affect a state or tribe's discretion to determine 
the appropriate level of specificity in establishing designated uses.
    When adopting the HAU, states and tribes must also adopt criteria 
to protect that use, as specified in Sec.  131.11(a). Requiring the HAU 
to be adopted as an essential part of the UAA process is important to 
adequately implement both CWA sections 101(a)(2) and 303(c)(2)(A). 
Where uses specified in section 101(a)(2) are unattainable, it is 
important that states and tribes still strive to attain uses that 
continue to serve the purposes of the Act and also enhance the quality 
of the water.
    In determining the HAU to adopt in place of an unattainable aquatic 
life, wildlife, and/or recreation use, states and tribes should use the 
same regulatory factors (at 40 CFR 131.10(g)) and data analysis that 
were used to evaluate attainability. When conducting this review and 
soliciting input from the public, states and tribes should consider not 
only what is currently attained, but also what is attainable in the 
future after achievable gains in water quality are

[[Page 54524]]

realized. Such a prospective analysis may involve the following:
     Identifying the current and expected condition for a water 
body;
     Evaluating the effectiveness of best management practices 
(BMPs) and associated water quality improvements;
     Examining the efficacy of treatment technology from 
engineering studies; and
     Using water quality models, loading calculations, and 
other predictive tools.
    Once a state or tribe has determined the HAU, there are several 
different approaches it may wish to consider for articulating the 
designated use in the relevant water quality standards regulations. The 
EPA's intent is for a state or tribe to have the flexibility to choose 
its preferred approach for articulating the HAU in regulation. The EPA 
provides the following example approaches, but does not intend states 
and tribes to be limited to only these approaches. The EPA invites 
comments on other approaches or examples that states and tribes could 
use when articulating the HAU, or examples of scenarios where the 
following approaches may not be appropriate. The EPA emphasizes that 
states and tribes are not required to develop new use categories or 
subcategories to meet the HAU requirement.
    1. Use a refined designated use structure that is already adopted 
into state or tribal regulation: Where a state or tribe already has a 
refined designated use structure adopted into state regulations, they 
could consider adopting the ``next best'' attainable use that already 
exists in the use structure as the HAU. For example, consider a state 
with the following four aquatic life uses: exceptional, high, modified, 
and limited aquatic life use--each with associated dissolved oxygen 
criteria that protect the use. The state determines through a UAA 
(based on a factor at Sec.  131.10(g)) that a particular stream cannot 
attain the designated ``high aquatic life use'' and associated 
dissolved oxygen criterion due to a low head dam and resulting 
impoundment. Because the dam cannot be removed or operated in such a 
way as to attain the dissolved oxygen criteria needed to protect the 
expected biological community at the site, the state adopts the 
``modified aquatic life use'' and dissolved oxygen criterion to protect 
the revised use. The UAA documents that the ``modified aquatic life 
use'' reflects the HAU despite the disturbed condition of the water 
body.
    2. Revise the current designated use structure to include more 
refined uses and/or sub-categories of uses: Some states or authorized 
tribes may not have a refined designated use structure adopted into 
their state or tribal regulations, but rather have a general use 
category expressed as a ``general aquatic life use,'' ``fish and 
wildlife use,'' ``recreation use,'' and so on. If a state or tribe 
finds that its only option upon determining that such a general use 
category is not attainable is to remove it altogether, a state or tribe 
may wish to consider revising its current designated use framework to 
include more refined uses and/or sub-categories, and adopt criteria to 
protect those uses.
    For example, a state or tribe may be able to adequately demonstrate 
(consistent with 40 CFR 131.10(g)(2)) that natural conditions or water 
levels preclude the attainment of a use and associated water quality 
criteria. The state or tribe may document that it is infeasible to 
attain an aquatic life use associated with fish because the water is 
naturally intermittent. However, intermittent streams provide essential 
habitat for different types of aquatic life (e.g., aquatic 
invertebrates). Such an aquatic life use is likely attainable if not 
already attained. Therefore, in this scenario the state or tribe may 
wish to adopt a refined ``intermittent aquatic life use'' and criteria 
to protect that use in its statewide designated use framework because 
such a use category reflects the naturally expected aquatic life use 
for intermittent streams that could be applied to multiple streams in 
the state.
    As another example, some states have chosen to refine their use 
categories to reflect the various biological communities that might be 
expected in a water body. If a state is interested in revising its 
current designated use structure, it may wish to define its uses based 
on the composition and structure of the aquatic life expected for each 
use with associated biological and dissolved oxygen criteria adopted 
into regulation. Incorporating such refinements into designated uses 
allows the state to tailor its use designations to reflect the actual 
biological community expected.
    3. Designate a location-specific use and adopt criteria to protect 
that use: A state or tribe may determine that a use is unattainable for 
one particular parameter (e.g., altered pH due to highly mineralized 
geology, or a combined sewer overflow (CSO)-impacted use) or suite of 
parameters in a specific location. In such situations, the state or 
tribe may choose to adopt a use that more accurately reflects the 
location-specific expectations, such as a ``pH limited aquatic life 
use,'' a ``habitat limited aquatic life use,'' or a ``minerals limited 
aquatic life use.'' The state or tribe would then adopt a new set of 
criteria to protect that use, but could adopt all the same criteria 
levels as were protective of the original use, except for the parameter 
or parameters limiting the location-specific use. Such an approach 
would not require a state or tribe to add the location-specific use in 
its framework, but it could do so if later if it finds that other 
waters will fall into the same category.
    The concept of HAU should not to be confused with ``site-specific 
criteria.'' A site-specific criterion is designed to protect the 
current unchanged designated use, but the criterion value may be 
different from the statewide or otherwise applicable criterion because 
it is tailored to account for site-specific conditions that may cause a 
given chemical concentration to have a different effect on one site 
than on another. By contrast, the criterion supporting a newly 
established highest attainable use is designed to protect the revised 
use associated with a different aquatic community expected in the water 
body.
    In addition to this proposal requiring states and tribes to adopt 
the HAU, the EPA recommends that states and tribes consider the HAU 
during a triennial review. If new information becomes available during 
a triennial review to indicate that a use higher than what is currently 
designated is attainable, states and tribes should revise their WQS to 
reflect the HAU. As with the HAU requirement, states and tribes are not 
required to revise their currently established use categories during 
triennial review to allow for more refined designation of higher uses, 
though they may wish to consider doing so.
Revisions To Clarify When a UAA Is and Is Not Required
    The EPA's proposal also revises Sec.  131.10(g) to clarify that the 
factors at Sec.  131.10(g) are only required to be considered when 
Sec.  131.10(j) requires a UAA. The current language in Sec.  131.10(g) 
is ambiguous on this point and thus has led to confusion as to whether 
Sec.  131.10(g) applies to all use revisions or only those actions 
addressed in Sec.  131.10(j). The EPA's 1998 ANPRM stated that the 
EPA's position, at the time, was that a UAA is not limited to actions 
addressed in Sec.  131.10(j). However, the EPA has implemented the CWA 
to focus on uses specified in Sec.  101(a)(2) and now believes that the 
better interpretation of its regulations is that the factors in 
131.10(g) are only required to be considered when a state or tribe is 
demonstrating that a use specified in Sec.  101(a)(2) or a subcategory 
of such a use is not attainable through a UAA.

[[Page 54525]]

The EPA's interpretation is supported by Sec.  131.10(j), that explains 
when a UAA is required, and Sec.  131.3(g) that defines a UAA as ``a 
structured scientific assessment of the factors affecting the 
attainment of the use which may include physical, chemical, biological, 
and economic factors as described in Sec.  131.10(g).'' When Sec. Sec.  
131.3(g), 131.10(g) and (j) are read together, it is clear that the 
factors at Sec.  131.10(g) are only required to be considered when the 
state or tribe must do a UAA under Sec.  131.10(j). This proposal adds 
language to Sec. Sec.  131.10(g) and 131.10(j) to clarify the 
relationship between these two provisions and the intent of these 
provisions to implement CWA sections 101(a)(2) and 303(c)(2)(A). For 
all other designated uses, this proposal uses the term ``uses not 
specified in section 101(a)(2)'' to refer to uses discussed in section 
303(c)(2)(A) but not included in section 101(a)(2). Section 
303(c)(2)(A) and the EPA's regulation at Sec.  131.10(a) requires the 
state or authorized tribe to take into consideration the ``use and 
value'' of water for public water supplies, propagation of fish and 
wildlife, recreational purposes, agricultural, industrial and other 
purposes, and also taking into consideration their use and value for 
navigation. The UAA demonstration satisfies this requirement for uses 
specified in 101(a)(2). And while states and authorized tribes are not 
required by regulation to conduct a UAA using factors at Sec.  
131.10(g) when designating and removing a use not specified in 
101(a)(2), the EPA recognizes that UAAs may provide valuable 
information to a state or authorized tribe when deciding how to manage 
their waters and demonstrate consideration of a water's ``use and 
value.''
    Finally, the EPA is proposing to clarify Sec.  131.10(k) to state 
when a UAA is not required. Specifically, Sec.  131.10(k) is revised to 
articulate that a UAA is not required when a state or authorized tribe 
designates or has designated uses specified in section 101(a)(2) of the 
Act for a water body for the first time, removes a designated use that 
is not specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act, or adopts a 
subcategory that requires criteria as stringent as the previously 
applicable criteria. The current structure of 131.10(j)(2) and 
131.10(k) could result in situations where a UAA is not required by 
131.10(k) but is required by 131.10(j)(2) thus leading to confusion. 
The EPA intends to eliminate this confusion by restructuring 131.10(k) 
as proposed.
    The EPA invites comments on the proposed addition of 40 CFR 
131.3(m), and the proposed amendments to Sec.  131.10(g), Sec.  
131.10(j) and Sec.  131.10(k). The EPA also invites comment on any 
other options it should consider or on the interpretations expressed in 
this section.

D. Requirements of Triennial Reviews

1. The EPA Proposal
    The EPA is proposing to amend the triennial review requirements of 
paragraph (a) of Sec.  131.20 to clarify that a state or tribe shall 
re-examine its water quality criteria during its triennial review to 
determine if any criteria should be revised in light of any new or 
updated CWA section 304(a) criteria recommendations to assure that 
designated uses continue to be protected.
2. Rationale for Revision
    Sections 303(a) through (c) of the CWA require that states and 
tribes adopt WQS applicable to their interstate and intrastate waters 
and that the EPA review and approve or disapprove these standards based 
on whether they are consistent with the Act. Section 303(c)(1) further 
requires states and tribes to hold public hearings at least once every 
3 years for the purpose of reviewing applicable WQS and, as 
appropriate, modifying and adopting standards. The state or tribe 
decides whether and how to modify or adopt its WQS; however, any new or 
revised standards shall be submitted to the EPA for review and approval 
or disapproval.
    The EPA adopted regulations in 1983 implementing these provisions 
at 40 CFR 131.20. This regulation requires that states and tribes hold 
a public hearing to review applicable WQS at least once every 3 years 
(i.e., a ``triennial review'') and, as appropriate, modify and adopt 
standards. Public hearings on WQS provide an essential opportunity for 
stakeholders and the general public to participate in the WQS-setting 
process to provide input and raise issues to appropriate officials. In 
addition, the regulation requires states and tribes to consider whether 
any new information has become available that indicates if uses 
specified in CWA section 101(a)(2) that were previously unattainable 
are now attainable. 40 CFR 131.20(c) provides that the results of these 
reviews be submitted to the EPA (see also Sec.  131.6(f)).
    Stakeholders have expressed concern that states and tribes may 
retain criteria in their WQS that are no longer protective of 
designated uses for multiple triennial review cycles, despite the 
availability of new or updated EPA CWA section 304(a) criteria 
recommendations. While states and tribes are not required to use EPA's 
304(a) criteria recommendations, the EPA agrees that it is important 
for states and tribes to consider any new or updated 304(a) criteria as 
part of their triennial review, in order to ensure that state or tribal 
water quality criteria reflect current science and protect applicable 
designated uses. In this regard, 40 CFR 131.20(a) requires that any 
waterbody segment with WQS that does not include the uses specified in 
CWA section 101(a)(2) be re-examined and updated if new information 
becomes available to indicate that previously unattainable CWA section 
101(a)(2) uses are now attainable. However, because 40 CFR 131.20(a) 
does not include a parallel statement regarding criteria that support 
these uses, states and tribes may not re-evaluate their existing 
criteria to ensure that the criteria continue to be protective of the 
designated uses when new or updated 304(a) criteria recommendations 
become available. As a result, the EPA is proposing to include an 
explicit reference to 304(a) recommended criteria at 131.20(a), to 
ensure that new or updated 304(a) criteria are considered during 
triennial review.
    The EPA invites comments on the proposed amendments to paragraph 
(a) of Sec.  131.20. The EPA also invites comment on any other options 
it should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.

E. Antidegradation Implementation

    The EPA is proposing to amend several provisions of Sec.  131.12 
related to implementing the antidegradation requirements. These include 
(1) clarifying the options available to states and tribes when 
identifying Tier 2 high quality waters, (2) clarifying that states and 
tribes must conduct an alternatives analysis in order to support state 
and tribal decision-making on whether to authorize limited degradation 
of high quality water, and (3) specifying that states and tribes must 
develop and make available to the public implementation methods for 
their antidegradation policies. The EPA is also proposing to add 
language to Sec.  131.5(a) describing the EPA's authority to review and 
approve or disapprove state-adopted or tribal-adopted antidegradation 
policies. The language at Sec.  131.5(a) will further specify that if a 
state or tribe has chosen to formally adopt implementation methods as 
water quality standards, the EPA would review whether those 
implementation methods are consistent with 131.12.

[[Page 54526]]

Background
    Section 101(a) of the CWA emphasizes the prevention of water 
pollution and expressly includes the objective ``to restore and 
maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the 
Nation's waters (33 U.S.C. 1251) (emphasis added). The antidegradation 
requirements that the EPA incorporated by regulation in 1983 into 40 
CFR 131.12 implement the maintenance aspect of CWA section 101(a) and 
are an essential component of the overall WQS program. Although 
designated uses and criteria are the primary tools states and tribes 
use to achieve the CWA 101(a) goals, antidegradation complements these 
by providing a framework for maintaining existing uses, for protecting 
waters that are either attaining or are of a higher quality than 
necessary to support the CWA 101(a)(2) goals, and for protecting state/
tribal identified Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRWs). 
Antidegradation plays a critical role in allowing states and tribes to 
maintain and protect the valuable resource of high quality water by 
ensuring that decisions to allow a lowering of high quality water are 
made in a transparent public manner and are based on a sound technical 
record.
    In the Water Quality Act of 1987, Congress expressly affirmed the 
principle of antidegradation that is reflected in section 101 of the 
Act. In those amendments to the CWA, Congress incorporated a reference 
to antidegradation policies in section 303(d)(4)(B) of the Act (33 
U.S.C. 1313(d)(4)(B)): ``Standard Attained--For waters identified under 
paragraph (1)(A) where the quality of such waters equals or exceeds 
levels necessary to protect the designated use for such waters or 
otherwise required by applicable WQS, any effluent limitation based on 
a total maximum daily load or other waste load allocation established 
under this section, or any WQS established under this section, or any 
permitting standard may be revised only if such revision is subject to 
and consistent with the antidegradation policy established under this 
section'' (emphasis added). This provision not only confirms that an 
antidegradation policy is an integral part of the CWA, but also 
explains the relationship of the antidegradation policy to other CWA 
regulatory programs.\13\ Antidegradation reviews are applicable to 
revisions to effluent limitations based on a TMDL, wasteload 
allocation, or water quality standard, but they are not required for 
revisions to a TMDL, wasteload allocation, or water quality 
standard.\14\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \13\ PUD No. 1 of Jefferson County v. Washington Department of 
Ecology, 511 U.S. 700, 705 (1994) (``A 1987 amendment to the Clean 
Water Act makes clear that section 303 also contains an 
`antidegradation policy . . .' '').
    \14\ Native Village of Point Hope v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 
No. 3:11-cv-00200-TMB, slip op. at 24-25 (D. Alaska Sept. 14, 2012).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    High quality waters provide support for aquatic life and recreation 
and support unique and significant ecologies and species habitat. These 
attributes confer a special degree of resiliency and resistance to 
adverse effects, particularly as the nation's waters face an increasing 
degree of stress from anthropogenic influences. Therefore, maintenance 
and protection of high quality waters has never been more important.
    Protection of waters that meet or exceed levels necessary to 
support the CWA uses is central to supporting both economic and 
community growth and sustainability. Such waters contribute to our 
public health, aquatic ecosystems, drinking water supplies, and to the 
welfare of families and communities. The health and growth of tourism, 
recreation, fishing, and businesses and the jobs they create rely on a 
sustainable source of clean water. Degradation of water quality may 
result in increasing public health risks, declining aquatic communities 
and ecological diversity, and increasing treatment costs that must be 
borne by ratepayers and local governments. Maintenance of waters that 
exceed levels necessary to support the CWA uses can sometimes save time 
and economic resources for a community in the long-term. Using an 
antidegradation program to prevent the degradation of a water body may 
be more cost-effective and efficient than long-term restoration 
efforts. In addition, maintaining a water body in its initial high 
quality condition helps ensure the preservation of unique attributes 
that may ultimately be impossible to fully restore in a number of 
situations.
    Currently, 40 CFR 131.12 requires states and tribes to adopt an 
antidegradation policy and identify implementation methods for that 
policy. The state's or tribe's policy must provide protection for all 
existing uses, hereafter referred to as ``Tier 1'' protection (40 CFR 
131.12(a)(1)). The policy must also require the maintenance and 
protection of high quality (``Tier 2'') waters unless the state or 
authorized tribe finds that ``allowing lower water quality is 
necessary'' to accommodate ``important economic or social development 
in the area in which the waters are located,'' a process hereby 
referred to as ``Tier 2 review'' (40 CFR 131.12(a)(2)). Additionally, 
the policy must provide for the maintenance and protection of water 
quality in ONRWs, identified by the state or tribe, hereinafter 
referred to as ``Tier 3'' waters (40 CFR 131.12(a)(3)). This proposal 
focuses on different aspects of state and tribal implementation methods 
to ensure effective and transparent implementation of Tier 2 high 
quality water antidegradation protection provisions.
    In this regard, the EPA indicated in its 1998 ANPRM that ``on a 
national scale, antidegradation is not being used as effectively as it 
could be,'' a concern that continues today and is echoed by 
stakeholders who have identified antidegradation as an underused 
component of water quality protection. Although the federal 
antidegradation regulation is intended to help states and tribes 
protect and maintain high quality waters, the number of waters that are 
identified as impaired continues to grow. The benefits of high quality 
waters may be jeopardized if states and tribes do not consider the 
long-term consequences of lowering water quality or evaluate the 
alternatives that might be available to reduce the need to accommodate 
increased pollution.
    While the EPA has issued guidance in the past to help facilitate 
state and tribal implementation of the regulatory antidegradation 
provisions, the EPA received substantial feedback from stakeholders 
that existing CWA antidegradation regulatory provisions and related 
guidance have not been fully successful in ensuring consistent and 
effective implementation of Tier 2 high quality water protections. 
Moreover, states have recognized the limits of national guidance in the 
area of CWA implementation. Most recently on March 30, 2011, the 
Environmental Council of the States published a resolution entitled 
``Objection to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Imposition of 
Interim Guidance, Interim Rules, Draft Policy and Reinterpretation 
Policy'' in which it states that the ``EPA should minimize the use of 
interim guidance, interim rules, draft policy and reinterpretation 
policy and eliminate the practice of directing its regional or national 
program managers to require compliance by states with the same in the 
implementation of delegated programs.'' For these and the other reasons 
discussed above, the EPA is, therefore, revising its regulation to 
update the requirements for transparent and effective state and tribal 
antidegradation implementation.

[[Page 54527]]

1. The EPA Proposal--Part 1: Identification of High Quality Waters
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (b)(1) to Sec.  131.12 to 
provide that high quality waters may be identified on a parameter-by-
parameter basis or on a water body-by-water body basis, as long as the 
state or tribal implementation methods ensure that waters are not 
excluded from Tier 2 protection solely because not all of the uses 
specified in CWA section 101(a)(2) are attained. The EPA's established 
view is that either method of identifying high quality waters is 
acceptable, but is proposing today to codify that flexibility for 
states and tribes into regulation. By ``the uses specified in CWA 
section 101(a)(2)'' the EPA means the uses and functions encompassed 
within the CWA section 101(a)(2), such as aquatic life support, 
wildlife support, consumption of aquatic life, and recreation.
    The nationally applicable water quality standards regulation at 
Sec.  131.12 describes high quality waters as those where the quality 
of the waters exceed levels necessary to support the propagation of 
fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water (i.e., 
the CWA goals articulated in section 101(a)(2)). States typically use 
one of two approaches to identify high quality waters. While the EPA 
specified in the ``Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System'' 
that high quality waters subject to 40 CFR part 132 must be identified 
using a parameter-by-parameter approach, the WQS regulation applicable 
to all states and tribes (at 40 CFR part 131) does not currently 
specify how a state or tribe must identify its high quality waters for 
purposes of the antidegradation requirements. States and tribes using a 
parameter-by-parameter approach identify which waters are of high 
quality for purposes of a Tier 2 review at the time the activity that 
would lower water quality is proposed. Under this approach, when an 
activity is proposed that would potentially lower water quality in any 
high quality water, the state or tribe would determine for which 
parameters the water quality is better than applicable criteria 
developed to support the CWA 101(a)(2) uses. Each parameter for which 
water quality would be lowered by the permitted activity is considered 
independently and, once a parameter is determined to exist at a level 
that is better than applicable criteria, the state or tribe would 
conduct a Tier 2 review for that parameter. In contrast, states and 
tribes using a water body-by-water body approach typically identify 
high quality waters in advance on a list by weighing a variety of 
factors to classify a water body's overall quality. If an activity is 
proposed that would potentially lower water quality, the state would 
first determine if that water body is on its Tier 2 list, and thus 
eligible for Tier 2 review.
    The EPA has found, however, that it is currently possible for high 
quality waters to be identified on a water body-by-water body basis in 
a manner that the EPA believes may be contrary to the intent of the 
antidegradation provisions. In some cases, states or tribes have 
implemented antidegradation such that, where a water body is listed on 
the CWA section 303(d) list based on one or more parameters affecting 
only one of the CWA 101(a)(2) uses, the state or tribe automatically 
considers the water no longer high quality. As a result, the state or 
tribe would no longer conduct Tier 2 reviews before allowing a lowering 
of water quality for any parameter. However, individual Section 303(d) 
listings can be a potentially poor indicator of the overall quality of 
a surface water because, although one or more of the uses specified in 
101(a)(2) is listed as impaired, one or more other uses specified in 
101(a)(2) might still be attained and the water quality may be higher 
than necessary to support such use(s). Such a means of identifying high 
quality waters would categorically deny Tier 2 protection to a water 
body that is still of high quality with respect to other uses specified 
in CWA 101(a)(2).
    If a water body can be excluded from Tier 2 protection solely 
because one of the uses specified in 101(a)(2) is not being attained, 
without a holistic evaluation of the water body, it is possible that a 
large number of state and tribal waters would never be subject to Tier 
2 review for any parameter. Yet those waters may in fact be high 
quality waters relative to other unimpaired uses. Thus, such water 
bodies could be degraded further without a public participation 
process. For example, mercury is widely prevalent in U.S. waters and is 
known to bioaccumulate in fish tissue, thus affecting the water body's 
ability to support protection and propagation of aquatic life. A recent 
statistically based EPA sampling survey found predator species fish 
tissue in 49 percent of the sampled population of lakes in the 
conterminous United States with surface areas greater than or equal to 
1 hectare exceeded the EPA's recommended 0.3 ppm tissue-based mercury 
criterion (``National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue,'' 
EPA 823-R-09-006). If all states and tribes used an approach for 
identifying high quality water whereby any impairment rendered the 
water body ineligible for Tier 2 protection, almost half of the lakes 
would automatically be excluded from Tier 2 high quality water 
protection. The EPA's view is that this approach would not be 
consistent with the objectives of the CWA and the intent of the 
antidegradation regulation.
    The EPA recognizes that there may be multiple ways for a state or 
tribe to develop a water body-based approach for identifying high 
quality waters consistent with the goals of the CWA and the 
antidegradation regulation. The EPA understands that in some cases, 
Sec.  131.12(a)(2) has been interpreted to mean that if any one of the 
uses reflecting CWA 101(a)(2) goals is not supported, that the water 
body as a whole cannot be considered high quality. The regulatory 
language, however, is derived from the language in CWA 101(a)(2) that 
specifies it is a national goal to achieve water quality that provides 
for ``the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife 
and provides for recreation in and on the water.'' The intent of this 
CWA statement is to strive towards all of the uses specified in the 
provision and not to stop striving towards all of the uses simply 
because one of them is not being achieved. The EPA's proposal and 
interpretation of 40 CFR 131.12(a)(2) is consistent with the intent of 
the CWA.
    Rather than excluding a water body from Tier 2 protection solely 
because not all of the uses specified in CWA section 101(a)(2) are 
attained, the EPA would expect the state or tribe to consider a 
combination of chemical, biological, and physical characteristics in 
identifying high quality waters. In other words, the EPA would expect 
the state or tribe to use all the relevant available data to conduct an 
overall holistic assessment of these characteristics in order to 
determine whether a water body would receive Tier 2 protection. Some of 
the factors a state or tribe may consider include, but are not limited 
to, existing aquatic life uses including aquatic assemblages, habitat, 
hydrology, geomorphic processes, and landscape condition; existing 
recreational uses and recreational significance; and the overall value 
and significance of the water body from an ecological and public-use 
perspective. Numerous tools, such as biological, habitat, hydrologic, 
geomorphic, and landscape assessments or the environmental impact 
statement rating system, could be useful to states and tribes in making 
and supporting these judgments.

[[Page 54528]]

    For purposes of better understanding this proposal, consider the 
following examples.
     Water Body A has aquatic life and recreational designated 
uses and is listed as impaired for methylmercury and bacteria, pursuant 
to CWA section 303(d). Under this proposed rule, a state or tribe using 
a water body-by-water body approach could exclude Water Body A from its 
Tier 2 list because the state or tribe could show that high levels of 
methylmercury prevent the attainment of protection and propagation of 
fish, shellfish and wildlife, and that high levels of bacteria prevent 
attainment of recreation in and on the water.
     Water Body B has aquatic life and recreational designated 
uses and is listed pursuant to CWA section 303(d) as impaired for 
methylmercury, but not for bacteria or any other pollutant necessary to 
protect recreation. Under a water body-by-water body approach, the 
proposed rule would prohibit the state or tribe from excluding Water 
Body B from its Tier 2 list solely because the water body cannot attain 
protection and propagation of aquatic life due to methylmercury. Water 
Body B is still attaining recreation in and on the water as specified 
in section 101(a)(2) of the Act.
    The EPA invites comments on the proposed addition of paragraph 
(b)(1) to Sec.  131.12. Additionally, the EPA is considering whether to 
specify how a state or tribe determines for which parameters Tier 2 
review must be conducted depending on the approach used to identify 
high quality waters. The EPA requests comment on whether, once a high 
quality water is identified, the Tier 2 review process for that water 
body should differ depending on the approach used to identify it as 
high quality. As the EPA has explained before in the ANPRM and in the 
``Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System'' (40 CFR part 
132), for high quality waters identified through the parameter-by-
parameter approach, states and tribes conduct Tier 2 reviews for all 
parameters for which the water quality has been identified as better 
than the applicable criteria developed to support the CWA 101(a)(2) 
uses. Each parameter for which water quality would be lowered by the 
permitted activity is considered independently and, once a parameter is 
determined to exist at a level that is better than applicable criteria 
developed to support the CWA 101(a)(2) uses, the state or tribe would 
conduct a Tier 2 review for that parameter.
    The EPA has made a variety of different statements about how Tier 2 
reviews are conducted once the water body is identified as Tier 2 using 
a water body-by-water body approach.15 16 Thus, for the 
water body-by-water body approach the EPA could specify that Tier 2 
reviews must be conducted for all parameters for which the water 
quality has been identified as better than the applicable criteria 
developed to support the CWA 101(a)(2) uses.
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    \15\ See ``EPA Region VIII Guidance: Antidegradation 
Implementation; Requirements, Options, and EPA Recommendations 
Pertaining to State/Tribal Antidegradation Programs,'' August, 1883, 
page 14, http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/adeg/upload/Region8_ch2_pg5-20.pdf.
    \16\ See ``Proposed Water Quality Standards for Kentucky,'' 
November 2002, page 68977, http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-WATER/2002/November/Day-14/w28922.htm.
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    Alternatively, the EPA could specify that for waters identified as 
high quality on a water body-by-water body basis, Tier 2 reviews are 
only required for parameters associated with the 101(a)(2) uses 
currently being supported. For example, in Water Body B above, a Tier 2 
review would only be required for each parameter that is better than 
the applicable criteria to protect recreation. And, a Tier 2 review 
would not be required for any parameter only associated with the 
aquatic life use (i.e., and not also associated with the recreation 
use).
    The EPA could also specify that states and tribes have discretion 
on how to conduct the Tier 2 reviews. The EPA also invites comments on 
any other options it should consider or on the interpretations 
expressed in this section.
2. The EPA Proposal--Part 2: Alternatives Analysis
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (b)(2) to 40 CFR 131.12 to 
ensure that states and tribes will only make a finding that lowering 
water quality is necessary, as required in Sec.  131.12(a)(2), after 
conducting an alternatives analysis that evaluates a range of non-
degrading and minimally degrading practicable alternatives that have 
the potential to prevent or minimize the degradation associated with 
the proposed activity. This proposal also provides that if a state or 
tribe can identify any practicable alternatives, the state or tribe 
must choose one of those alternatives to implement when authorizing a 
lowering of high water quality.
    Section 131.12(a)(2) also provides that high quality water shall be 
maintained and protected unless the state or tribe finds (after 
satisfaction of public participation and intergovernmental coordination 
requirements) that ``allowing lower water quality is necessary to 
accommodate important economic or social development in the area in 
which the waters are located'' (40 CFR 131.12(a)(2)). As discussed 
previously, this process is called a Tier 2 review. Tier 2 review calls 
for the state or tribe to investigate two questions: (1) Whether 
allowing lower water quality is necessary to accomplish the proposed 
activity, typically by examining alternative ways of accomplishing the 
activity through an alternatives analysis; and (2) whether the proposed 
activity that will result in lower water quality will accommodate 
important economic or social development, through a socio-economic 
analysis. States and tribes may determine the order in which to 
complete the two aspects of the finding. In addition, states have 
discretion to decide there is no need to answer the second question if 
the answer to the first question is ``no.'' For example, a state or 
tribe may choose to first ask whether lowering of water quality is 
necessary to accomplish the proposed activity, and if the answer is 
``no,'' decide at that point not to investigate whether the proposed 
activity will accommodate important economic or social development. 
While this finding is a state or tribal responsibility, the EPA 
recognizes that states and tribes may establish processes requiring the 
entity responsible for conducting the proposed activity to provide 
information or conduct the necessary evaluations.
    Although the existing regulation implies that the state or tribe 
must have a means of evaluating whether a lowering of water quality is 
necessary to accomplish the proposed activity, currently there is no 
explicit requirement to conduct an alternatives analysis. Even if a 
state or tribe conducts an alternatives analysis, the regulation does 
not specify that, where there is a practicable alternative, the state 
or tribe must select an alternative for implementation. For these 
purposes, the term ``practicable'' means that the alternatives 
considered must be available for the proposed activity, technologically 
possible, able to be done or put into practice successfully at the site 
in question, and economically viable. This lack of specificity can 
result in situations where a state or tribe does not evaluate less-
degrading or non-degrading alternatives to the proposed activity, and 
thus lacks a reasoned basis for determining if the proposed lowering of 
water quality is necessary to accomplish the proposed activity, or not. 
The EPA's view is that this lack of specificity can lead to state or 
tribal decisions to lower water quality without appropriately making a 
finding that a

[[Page 54529]]

lowering is necessary, contrary to section 131.12(a)(2).
    This issue was considered carefully as part of the development of 
updated water quality requirements for the Great Lakes states in 1995. 
The regulation at 40 CFR part 132, Appendix E, addresses it by 
requiring that any entity seeking to degrade high water quality must 
submit an antidegradation demonstration for consideration by the state. 
This demonstration includes an analysis identifying any cost-effective 
pollution prevention alternatives and techniques, as well as an 
analysis identifying alternative or enhanced treatment techniques (and 
their relative costs) that are available to the entity and that would 
eliminate or significantly reduce the extent to which the increased 
loading results in a lowering of water quality. States and tribes 
should tailor the level of detail and documentation in antidegradation 
reviews to the specific circumstances encountered. The state or tribe 
then uses that information to determine whether or not the lowering of 
water quality is necessary.
    Under the approach proposed today, the state or tribe would conduct 
its alternatives analysis by considering a range of non-degrading and 
minimally degrading practicable alternatives to the proposed activity. 
Similar to the alternatives analysis provided for in 40 CFR part 132, 
this evaluation would include a consideration of any non-degrading or 
minimally degrading cost-effective pollution prevention alternatives 
and enhanced treatment techniques, but would not be limited to those. 
For example, alternatives could include no discharge, pollution 
prevention measures, process changes, reduction in the scale of the 
project, advanced or different treatment technologies, water recycling 
and reuse, land application, seasonal or controlled discharge options 
avoiding critical water quality periods, and alternative discharge 
locations, if such measures were practicable.
    Once the state or tribe has identified a range of practicable 
alternatives, the state or tribe would evaluate the alternatives in 
terms of the extent of degradation that would result. By initially 
considering practicable alternatives that represent a range from non-
degrading to minimally degrading as opposed to simply identifying the 
single least degrading alternative, the state or tribe then has a basis 
to make the required finding, considering the implications and 
technological and economic practicability of the alternatives more 
holistically, and considering any impacts beyond the direct effects on 
water quality, such as cross-media impacts (e.g., impacts on land due 
to land application of pollutants found in water). This will allow the 
state or tribe to determine whether the lowering of water quality is 
necessary to accommodate important economic or social development per 
Part 131.12(a)(2). As reflected in the Great Lakes System regulation at 
Part 132, the EPA believes states and tribes should tailor the level of 
detail and documentation of alternatives analyses in antidegradation 
reviews to the significance and magnitude of the particular 
circumstances encountered.
    The EPA invites comment on the proposed addition of paragraph 
(b)(2) to Sec.  131.12. The EPA also invites comment on any other 
options it should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this 
section.
3. The EPA Proposal--Part 3: Developing and Making Available to the 
Public Antidegradation Implementation Methods
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (b) to 40 CFR 131.12 to 
specify that states and tribes must develop and make available to the 
public antidegradation implementation methods to improve program 
implementation, ensure consistency with the CWA, and provide 
transparency as to applicable state and tribal antidegradation review 
requirements. The EPA is also making changes to language in Sec.  
131.5(a) describing the EPA's authority to review and approve or 
disapprove state-adopted or tribal-adopted antidegradation policies. 
The language in Sec.  131.5(a) further specifies that if a state or 
tribe has chosen to formally adopt implementation methods as water 
quality standards, the EPA would review whether those implementation 
methods are consistent with Sec.  131.12. In addition to the proposed 
requirements included in this proposal, the EPA is considering and 
requesting comment on whether the EPA should include a requirement that 
antidegradation implementation methods be adopted as WQS and thus 
subject to the EPA's review and approval or disapproval. Alternatively, 
the EPA is considering and requesting comment on whether the EPA should 
specify that states and tribes may, but are not required to, adopt 
antidegradation implementation methods as WQS.
    Currently there is confusion whether the existing regulations 
require states and tribes to adopt antidegradation implementation 
methods as WQS. Stakeholders have raised concerns that some states and 
tribes have not developed or made publically available antidegradation 
implementation methods, despite the fact that the regulation requiring 
this was established in 1983. Specifically, they are concerned that the 
absence of such methods reduces transparency in the implementation of 
states' and tribes' policies, and potentially limits the ability to 
ensure protection of existing uses, high quality waters, and ONRWs to 
the full extent required by the regulation. The CWA at section 101(e) 
specifically states that ``public participation in the development, 
revision, and enforcement of any regulations, standard, effluent 
limitation, plan, or program established . . . under this Act shall be 
provided for, encouraged, and assisted. . . .'' The EPA encourages 
states and tribes to provide a robust and transparent process for 
developing and making available to the public their antidegradation 
implementation methods and for implementing those methods in specific 
cases.
    Section 501(a) of the CWA (33 U.S.C. 1361(a)) authorizes the EPA 
Administrator to ``prescribe such regulations as are necessary to carry 
out [her] functions under this Act.'' The CWA, under section 303(c), 
also specifies that the EPA Administrator must review and approve new 
or revised WQS after determining they are consistent with applicable 
requirements under the CWA. The EPA believes that antidegradation 
implementation methods are an important component of implementing 
antidegradation policies. Thus, the EPA is considering and requesting 
comment on whether the EPA should include a requirement that 
implementation methods be formally adopted as WQS and thus subject to 
the EPA's review and approval or disapproval. Formal adoption of 
implementation methods as WQS, along with EPA review under section 
303(c) of the Act, would help ensure the consistent and effective 
implementation of the state or tribe's antidegradation provisions so 
that waters will be maintained and protected in accordance with the 
objectives of the Act.\17\ At the same time, the EPA acknowledges the 
primary role of states and tribes in establishing and implementing 
water quality standards. The EPA is thus alternatively considering and 
requesting comment on whether to specify in rule that states and tribes 
may, but are not required to, adopt antidegradation implementation 
methods as WQS subject to EPA approval. In this case,

[[Page 54530]]

states and tribes must develop antidegradation implementation methods, 
and must make them available to the public, but they would not be 
subject to EPA review and approval or disapproval unless the state or 
tribe chose to formally adopt them as WQS.
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    \17\ As of 2013, the EPA is aware of 25 states that have adopted 
antidegradation implementation methods entirely into rule.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Additionally, antidegradation is an essential part of WQS and state 
and tribal approaches to implementing antidegradation requirements may 
have direct implications for NPDES permits, as well as other federal 
permits and licenses for activities that affect water quality. The EPA 
believes that this may be an additional reason why the regulations 
should require states and tribes to formally adopt, after providing an 
opportunity for public involvement, and obtain EPA approval for 
antidegradation implementation methods. Lastly, state and tribal 
antidegradation programs that have antidegradation implementation 
methods adopted into regulations are more transparent to stakeholders 
and the public, as well as provide greater clarity to regulated 
industry.
    The ``Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System'' (40 CFR 
part 132) provides that an acceptable antidegradation policy and 
implementation methods are required elements of a state's or tribe's 
WQS program for waters of the Great Lakes system. That regulation 
requires that Great Lakes states and tribes adopt provisions into their 
policy and implementation methods that are consistent with a list of 
specifications, including details on how high quality waters are to be 
identified and on the components of antidegradation Tier 2 reviews.
    Consistent with this ``Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes 
System'' requirement and for the reasons explained, the EPA is 
considering and seeking comments on a revision to the antidegradation 
regulation at 40 CFR 131.12 that would require states and tribes to 
adopt antidegradation implementation methods in order to improve 
program implementation, ensure consistency with CWA, and provide 
transparency as to applicable state or tribal antidegradation review 
requirements. If the EPA were to finalize such a requirement, the EPA 
would expect that a state or tribe's adopted implementation methods 
would describe how the state or tribe intended to implement each aspect 
of its policy, consistent with Sec.  131.12(a), as well as how 
antidegradation decisions would be documented. This would provide 
sufficient information so that the public and the EPA would understand 
the extent to which activities affecting water quality are being 
authorized consistent with the state's or tribe's antidegradation 
policy and other CWA requirements.
    The EPA invites comments on the proposed addition of paragraph (b) 
to Sec.  131.12. As previously mentioned, there is confusion whether 
the existing regulations require states and tribes to adopt 
antidegradation implementation methods as WQS. The EPA requests comment 
on whether the EPA should require, as part of Section 131.12(b), that 
implementation methods be adopted as WQS and thus subject to the EPA's 
review and approval or disapproval. If the EPA makes adoption of 
implementation methods a requirement, the EPA is also considering 
corresponding revisions to sections 131.5(a) and 131.6(d). 
Specifically, the EPA requests comment on whether a corresponding 
revision should be made to section 131.6(d) to clarify that 
implementation methods are one of the minimum requirements for a water 
quality standards submission. Alternatively, the EPA is requesting 
comment on whether the EPA should explicitly specify in regulation that 
states and tribes are not required to adopt antidegradation 
implementation method as WQS. Finally, the EPA invites comments on any 
other options it should consider or on the interpretations expressed in 
this section.
4. Minimum Elements of an Antidegradation Implementation Method
    The EPA's basis for taking approval or disapproval action on a 
state's or a tribe's antidegradation policy is whether the policy is 
consistent with the CWA and the water quality standards regulations at 
40 CFR Sec.  131.12. While the current regulations do not require 
states or tribes to adopt antidegradation implementation methods as 
water quality standards, if a state or tribe chooses to do so, the EPA 
would review a state's or tribe's implementation methods on the basis 
of ensuring that the methods do not undermine the state's or tribe's 
own antidegradation policy. This proposed revised antidegradation 
regulation continues to provide for a wide range of state and tribal 
approaches to antidegradation. States and tribes have considerable 
discretion in how they address each of the elements of antidegradation 
implementation specified in the regulation. To facilitate development 
of implementation methods, the EPA is providing in this preamble a list 
of the areas states' and tribes' implementation methods would need to 
address, at a minimum, to be consistent with the WQS regulation. This 
list is based on requirements currently found in the federal 
antidegradation regulation, as well as proposed requirements found in 
this action. Again, how states and tribes address each of these areas 
in their methods is within their discretion, as long as it does not 
undermine their antidegradation policy or is otherwise inconsistent 
with the Act or EPA's regulations.
    a. Scope and applicability: the state or tribe should describe the 
scope and applicability of their antidegradation policy.
    b. Existing uses protection: the state or tribe will ensure the 
maintenance and protection of all existing uses and the water quality 
necessary to protect the existing uses.
    c. High quality water protection
    i. Identification of high quality water: the state or tribe will 
identify high quality waters on a parameter-by-parameter basis or a 
water body-by-water body basis, as long as the state's or tribe's 
implementation methods ensure that waters are not excluded from Tier 2 
protection solely because not all of the uses specified in CWA section 
101(a)(2) are attained.
    ii. Alternatives analysis and social/economic analysis: the state 
or tribe will determine whether the lowering of water quality that 
would result from a proposed activity is necessary to accommodate 
important economic or social development in the area in which the 
waters are located through an alternatives analysis and a social and/or 
economic analysis.
    iii. Public participation and intergovernmental coordination: the 
state or tribe will ensure full satisfaction of the public 
participation and intergovernmental coordination provisions of the 
state's or tribe's continuing planning process in any finding that will 
allow lower water quality.
    iv. Requirements for point and nonpoint sources: the state or tribe 
will ensure that there shall be achieved the highest statutory and 
regulatory requirements for all new and existing point sources and all 
cost-effective and reasonable best management practices for nonpoint 
source control when allowing a lowering of water quality.
    d. ONRW protection: the state or tribe will ensure the maintenance 
and protection of water quality for waters identified as ONRWs.
    e. Thermal Discharges: The state or tribe will ensure consistency 
with Section 316 of the Act in cases that involve potential water 
quality impairment associated with thermal discharges.

[[Page 54531]]

5. How does this proposal affect states or authorized Tribes for which 
the EPA has promulgated antidegradation implementation methods?
    The revised WQS regulation will apply to all states, authorized 
tribes, and territories, regardless of whether or not the EPA has 
previously promulgated an antidegradation policy or implementation 
methods for the state or tribe. Therefore, any previously promulgated 
antidegradation policies or implementation methods may require revision 
to meet the new requirements of Section 131.12.

F. WQS Variances

1. Background
    The EPA has encouraged states and tribes to utilize WQS variances 
\18\ (hereafter referred to as ``variances''), where appropriate, as an 
important WQS tool that provides states and tribes time to make 
progress towards attaining a designated use and criteria. The EPA has 
offered input and support for variances through Office of General 
Counsel legal decisions,\19\ guidance, memoranda, and approval actions 
for many years. These documents specifically explain the EPA's 
interpretation that variances may be granted if the state or authorized 
tribe demonstrates that the variance meets the same requirements as a 
permanent \20\ designated use change, even though the WQS regulation 
lacks explicit provisions on the issue. As a result, the EPA has heard 
from states, tribes, and stakeholders that there is confusion, 
inconsistency, and mixed interpretations about how, when, and where 
variances may be used appropriately (e.g., with regard to nutrients and 
implementation of numeric nutrient criteria). In particular, the EPA 
has found that this WQS tool is underutilized. For example, since 
tracking WQS variance submittals in 2004, four EPA Regions have never 
received a WQS variance submittal. However, the EPA has found that 
where states and tribes and their stakeholders have more specificity in 
regulation regarding variances, such as those states and tribes covered 
by the ``Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System'' (i.e., 
Great Lakes Initiative) rulemaking at 40 CFR part 132, they are 
successfully adopting and submitting WQS variances. This proposed rule 
is intended to provide this specificity nationally.
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    \18\ The EPA distinguishes WQS variances, as described in 
today's proposed rulemaking, from variances as described in the 
EPA's permitting regulation at Sec. Sec.  122.2 and 125.3.
    \19\ The EPA's memoranda discussing variances are available on 
the EPA's Web site at http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/waterquality/standards/handbook/chapter05.cfm#section3.
    \20\ ``Permanent'' is used here and throughout this section to 
contrast between the time-limited nature of variances and designated 
use changes in accordance with 40 CFR 131.10 that require a revision 
to a State's water quality standards to reverse. In accordance with 
40 CFR 131.20, waters that ``do not include the uses specified in 
section 101(a)(2) of the Act shall be re-examined every 3 years to 
determine if new information has become available. If such new 
information indicates that the uses specified in section 101(a)(2) 
of the Act are attainable, the State shall revise its standards 
accordingly.''
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    The CWA specifies a national goal at Section 101(a) to restore and 
maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the 
Nation's waters and an interim goal in Section 101(a)(2) that, 
``wherever attainable,'' water quality provide for the protection and 
propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and provides for 
recreation in and on the water. In implementing the CWA, the regulation 
at 40 CFR 131.10 establishes provisions relating to the management of 
designated uses. In 1977, an Office of General Counsel legal decision 
considered the practice of temporarily downgrading the WQS as it 
applies to a specific discharger rather than permanently downgrading an 
entire water body or waterbody segment(s) and determined that such a 
practice is acceptable under the EPA's existing regulations as long as 
the variance is adopted consistent with the substantive and procedural 
requirements for permanently downgrading a designated use. In other 
words, a state or tribe may change the standard in a more targeted way 
rather than remove the standard all together. The EPA further explained 
that it would be appropriate to grant a variance based on any of the 
six factors for removing a designated use as listed in Sec.  
131.10(g).\21\
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    \21\ Variances in Water Quality Standards, March 15, 1985, Memo 
from Edwin L. Johnson, Director of the Office of Water Regulations 
and Standards, to the Regional Water Division Directors and the 
Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at 63 FR 36759.
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    The state practice described in the Office of General Counsel legal 
decision became known as adopting a ``variance'' to WQS. Specifically, 
a variance is a time-limited designated use and criterion that is 
targeted to a specific pollutant(s), source(s), and/or water body or 
waterbody segment(s) that reflects the highest attainable condition 
during the specified time period. Variances are different from changes 
to the designated use and associated criteria in that they are intended 
as a mechanism to provide time for states, authorized tribes and 
stakeholders to implement adaptive management approaches that will 
improve water quality where the designated use and criterion currently 
in place are not being met, but still retain the designated use as a 
long term goal. Variances are limited in scope and are an 
environmentally preferable tool over a designated use change because 
variances retain designated use protection for all pollutants as they 
apply to all sources with the exception of those specified in the 
variance. Even the discharger who is given a variance for one 
particular constituent is required to meet the applicable criteria for 
all other constituents. The variance is given for a limited time period 
and the discharger must either meet the WQS upon the expiration of this 
time period or the state or tribe must adopt a new variance or re-
justify the current variance subject to EPA review and approval. Thus, 
when properly applied, a variance can lead to improved water quality 
over time, and in some cases, full attainment of designated uses due to 
advances in treatment technologies, control practices, or other changes 
in circumstances, thereby furthering the objectives of the CWA.
    Presently, the nationally applicable WQS regulation only mentions 
variances in 40 CFR 131.13. This provision indicates that variance 
policies are general policies affecting the application and 
implementation of WQS, and that states and tribes may include variances 
policies in their state and tribal standards, at their discretion. The 
EPA provided variance procedure requirements when it promulgated WQS 
for Kansas (Sec.  131.34(c)), Puerto Rico (Sec.  131.40(c)), and the 
Great Lakes System (40 CFR part 132, Appendix F, Procedure 2). However, 
the nationally applicable regulation does not explicitly address 
questions such as when a variance can be granted, how a variance must 
be justified, what is required during the term of the variance, or for 
how long a variance can be granted. The EPA's established position has 
been that variances, as time-limited and narrow use revisions, are 
appropriate WQS tools that must go through public review and require 
the EPA's review and approval.\22\ This position is supported by the 
EPA's practice regarding variances.\23\ Today, we recognize a more 
direct link to the CWA Section 101(a)

[[Page 54532]]

goal of ``restore and maintain'' for variances. WQS variances are 
consistent with the ``restore'' aspect of the goal since variances are 
intended to allow incremental environmental progress in achieving 
designated uses. As described in detail in section III.F.2, the EPA is 
proposing a set of variance provisions that are in many ways parallel 
to the regulations in 131.10, but are tailored to better fit the 
circumstances where variances will allow for environmental progress 
toward achieving the goals of the CWA. The EPA notes that its 
understanding and past practice allows for variances whether or not 
those uses are specified in Section 101(a)(2), however, the 
demonstration may differ.
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    \22\ The EPA addressed variances in its Kansas and Puerto Rico 
promulgations and part 132 Great Lakes Water Quality Guidance 
regulations (Published March 23, 1995, http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&SID=105020ee867fe139a8d0965b23bf7557&rgn=div5&view=text&node=40:23.0.1.1.19&idno=40).
    \23\ The EPA's WQS Handbook, 1994: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/handbook/chapter05.cfm#section3
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    States and tribes have expressed that variances are useful in a 
number of circumstances where the state or tribe has demonstrated that 
the designated use and criterion are not attainable today (or for a 
limited period of time), but may be attainable in the longer term. 
Examples include when:
     Attaining the designated use and criterion is not feasible 
under the current conditions (e.g., attainment of numeric nutrient 
criteria would result in substantial and widespread social and economic 
impact) but could be feasible should circumstances change (e.g., 
development of less expensive pollution control technology or a change 
in local economic conditions); or
     The state or tribe does not know whether the designated 
use and criterion can be attained, but feasible progress toward 
attaining the designated use and criterion can still be made by 
implementing known controls and tracking environmental improvements 
(e.g., complex use attainability challenges involving legacy 
pollutants).
    There are a variety of tools available to states, tribes and 
dischargers that can provide time to meet regulatory requirements; 
however, the most common regulatory tools considered are variances and 
permit compliance schedules. Which tool is appropriate depends upon the 
circumstances. Variances can be appropriate to address situations where 
it is known that the designated use and criterion are unattainable 
today (or for a limited period of time) but feasible progress could be 
made toward attaining the designated use and criterion. A permit 
compliance schedule, on the other hand, may be appropriate when the use 
is attainable, but the permittee needs additional time to modify or 
upgrade treatment facilities in order to meet its WQBEL such that a 
schedule and resulting milestones will lead to compliance ``as soon as 
possible'' with the WQBEL based on the currently applicable WQS. (See 
CWA section 507(17) for a definition of ``Schedules of compliance'' and 
40 CFR 122.47).
    The EPA is proposing and soliciting comment on revisions to the WQS 
regulation that will provide more specificity and clearer requirements 
on the development and use of variances. Such revisions will establish 
requirements to help improve water quality by allowing states and 
tribes time to work with stakeholders to address any challenges and 
uncertainties associated with attaining the designated use and the 
associated criterion. These revisions will also provide assurance that 
further feasible progress toward the designated use and criterion will 
be made during the variance period.
    The EPA's proposed regulatory provisions for variances at Sec.  
131.14 address the following key topic areas: (1) Applicability, (2) 
submission requirements, (3) implementing variances, (4) how to renew a 
variance, and (5) conforming changes to Sec. Sec.  131.34 and 131.40. A 
discussion of this proposal and the rationale for each proposed 
regulatory provision follows.
2. Rationale and the EPA Proposal
a. Part 1--Applicability of Variances
i. The Scope of a Variance
    To provide clarity, promote consistency, and avoid conflicting 
interpretations of WQS variances, the EPA is proposing a new regulatory 
definition for WQS variance at Sec.  131.14. A water quality standards 
variance (WQS variance) is a time-limited use and criterion for a 
specified pollutant(s), permittee(s), and/or water body or waterbody 
segment(s) that reflect the highest attainable condition during the 
specified time period. Variances are WQS subject to EPA review and 
approval or disapproval and must be consistent with Sec.  131.14. As 
WQS, variances are subject to Sec.  131.20(a) and thus must be reviewed 
on a triennial basis. States and tribes continue to have broad 
discretion on the structure of their triennial reviews and can decide 
whether and how to modify or adopt WQS as a result of a triennial 
review. The EPA is also proposing to specify at Sec.  131.14(a)(1) that 
all other applicable water quality standards not specifically addressed 
by the variance remain applicable.
    Typically, states find variances that apply to a specific 
pollutant(s) and discharger(s) to be most useful. If a state believes 
that the designated use and criterion is unattainable for a period of 
time because the discharger cannot meet its WQBEL, the state may grant 
a discharger-specific variance so long as the variance is consistent 
with the CWA and implementing regulation.
    Similarly, if a state or tribe believes that the designated use and 
criterion is unattainable as it applies to multiple permittees because 
they are all experiencing challenges in meeting their WQBELs for the 
same pollutant for the same reason, regardless of whether or not they 
are located on the same water body, a state or tribe may streamline its 
variance process by granting one variance that applies to all these 
dischargers (i.e., a multiple discharger variance) so long as the 
variance is consistent with the CWA and implementing regulations. The 
EPA recognized the utility of a multiple discharger variance and its 
distinction from an individual discharger variance in the ``Water 
Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System: Supplementary Information 
Document'' (SID; EPA-820-B-95-001; March 1995). The EPA provided 
further clarification regarding multiple discharger variances in the 
``Water Quality Standards for the State of Florida's Lakes and Flowing 
Waters; Final Rule'' (75 FR 75790, December 6, 2010). More recently in 
March 2013, the EPA provided a set of frequently asked questions to 
assist states and tribes in developing credible rationales for multiple 
discharger variances. \24\
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    \24\ Discharger-specific Variances on a Broader Scale: 
Developing Credible Rationales for Variances that Apply to Multiple 
Dischargers, EPA-820-F-13-012, March 2013 (http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/upload/Discharger-specific-Variances-on-a-Broader-Scale-Developing-Credible-Rationales-for-Variances-that-Apply-to-Multiple-Dischargers-Frequently-Asked-Questions.pdf).
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    Where a state or tribe can demonstrate that the designated use and 
criterion currently in place for a specific pollutant is not attainable 
immediately (or for a limited period of time) for an entire water body, 
the state or tribe may adopt a waterbody variance as an alternative to 
a designated use change for the water body so long as the variance is 
consistent with the CWA and implementing regulation. In such an 
instance, the variance applies to the water body itself, rather than to 
any specific source or sources. A waterbody variance provides time for 
the state or tribe to work with both point and nonpoint sources to 
determine and implement adaptive management approaches on a waterbody/
watershed scale to achieve pollutant reductions and strive toward 
attaining the water body's designated use and associated criteria.
    States and tribes retain discretion as to whether, when, and where 
to adopt variances. However, consistent with the

[[Page 54533]]

EPA's current position, should a state or tribe choose to grant a 
variance, it is subject to the EPA's review and approval or 
disapproval--regardless of the scope of the variance.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section. 
The EPA also invites comment on the applicability of variances to 
individual dischargers, multiple dischargers and to entire water 
bodies.
ii. An EPA Approved Variance Is Only Applicable for CWA Section 402 
Permitting Purposes and in Issuing Certifications Under Section 401 of 
the Act
    The proposed WQS regulation at 40 CFR 131.14(a)(2) would specify 
that where a state or authorized tribe adopts a variance, the state or 
tribal regulations must continue to reflect the underlying designated 
use and criterion unless the state or tribe adopts and the EPA approves 
a revision to the designated use and criterion as consistent with Sec.  
131.10 or Sec.  131.11. The interim requirements specified in the 
variance apply only for CWA section 402 permitting purposes and in 
issuing certifications under section 401 of the Act for the 
pollutant(s), permittee(s) and/or water body or waterbody segment(s) 
covered by the variance.
    To date, the EPA's available guidance has characterized variances 
as temporary changes to the designated use; however, such a 
characterization might imply that the variance replaces the designated 
use while the variance is in effect. This has led to conflicting 
interpretations of how variances affect the implementation of WQS 
through CWA programs, such as NPDES permits and the CWA 303(d) 
requirements.
    The CWA and implementing regulation direct the states to add waters 
that are not attaining any applicable WQS to their 303(d) impaired 
waters list. Specifically, CWA section 303(d)(1)(A) states that ``each 
state shall identify those waters within its boundaries for which the 
effluent limitations required by section 301(b)(1)(A) and section 
301(b)(1)(B) of this title are not stringent enough to implement any 
water quality standards applicable to such waters''(emphasis added). 
Stakeholders have expressed concern that if the interim requirements do 
not replace the designated use and criterion, there will effectively be 
two WQS applicable for purposes of implementing the CWA section 303(d) 
program where a variance has been approved. However, the interim 
requirements do not replace the designated use and criteria for the 
water body as a whole. Discharger-specific variances affect the 
development of WQBELs for the discharger(s) specified in the variance; 
they do not affect the designated use and criterion that apply to the 
rest of the water body. In addition, variances are time-limited and 
intended as a tool to facilitate water quality improvements, not to 
revise the long term goals for a water body. Therefore, any 
implementation of CWA section 303(d) must continue to be based on the 
underlying designated uses and criteria for the water body rather than 
the interim requirements.
    By requiring state and tribal regulations to maintain the 
underlying designated use and criterion where a variance is approved, 
the proposed regulation will ensure it is clear that the interim 
requirements associated with a variance do not replace the designated 
use and criterion. This will, in turn, facilitate a consistent 
interpretation regarding how variances affect the implementation of WQS 
through the various CWA programs and how variances are to be used to 
support feasible progress toward attaining the underlying designated 
use and criteria.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
iii. Relationship to Technology-Based Requirements in CWA Sections 
301(b) and 306
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (a)(3) to 40 CFR 131.14 to 
specify that a variance shall not be granted if the designated use and 
criterion can be achieved by implementing technology-based effluent 
limits required under sections 301(b) and 306 of the Act.
    As with designated use changes, variances are not permissible if 
the WQS can be attained by implementing technology-based effluent 
limits required under section 301(b) and 306 of the Act. Section 
301(b)(1)(A), (B), and section 306 of the Act provide for technology-
based requirements through effluent limitations guidelines and new 
source performance standards. These technology-based requirements 
represent the minimum level of control that must be imposed in a permit 
(40 CFR 125.3). Because variances are allowed only where the designated 
use and criterion are demonstrated to be unattainable during the term 
of the variance, it would not be appropriate to use a variance if the 
designated use and criterion can be attained by implementing the 
technology-based requirements of the Act.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
b. Part 2--Submission Requirements
    This section describes the relevant information that a state or 
authorized tribe must submit to the EPA when requesting the EPA's 
review and approval of a variance.
i. Components of a Variance
1. Identifying Information--Pollutant(s), Permittee(s), Location
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (b)(1)(i) at 40 CFR 131.14 
requiring states and authorized tribes to identify, in the variance, 
the pollutant(s), the permittee(s), and/or the water body or waterbody 
segment(s) to which the variance applies.
    This proposed regulatory revision will require all variances to 
specify for what, to whom, and/or where the variance applies, which 
will help ensure full transparency and public participation on the 
applicability and scope of the variance. This will alleviate any 
inconsistencies in the way states and tribes have articulated where, 
when and how the variance applies.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
2. Numeric Interim Requirements That Apply During a Variance
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (b)(1)(ii) at 40 CFR 131.14 
to require that a variance must specify (1) the highest attainable 
interim use and numeric criterion that will apply during the term of 
the variance or (2) an interim numeric effluent condition that reflects 
the highest attainable condition for a specific permittee(s) during the 
term of the variance. Neither (1) nor (2) shall result in any lowering 
of the currently attained water quality, unless a time-limited lowering 
of water quality is necessary during the term of a variance for 
restoration activities, consistent with Sec.  131.14(b)(2)(ii).
    As variances have been implemented to date, some states and tribes 
have not identified in the variance the interim requirements that shall 
apply for permitting purposes during the term of the variance. 
Specifying the interim requirements to be met during the variance will 
provide the legal basis for permit writers to develop permit limits 
that derive from and comply with a WQS, as required by the permitting 
regulations at 40 CFR 122.44(d)(vii)(A).
    As discussed in Section III.C, the EPA is proposing a requirement 
that a state

[[Page 54534]]

or tribe adopts the highest attainable use closest to the 101(a)(2) 
goals when it has demonstrated that the use specified in CWA section 
101(a)(2) or a subcategory of such a use is not attainable based on a 
UAA. The EPA is proposing that a similar requirement apply to variances 
such that if states or tribes can demonstrate that a use specified in 
section 101(a)(2) or subcategory of such a use is not attainable for 
the variance period, then the state or tribe must adopt a variance 
reflecting the highest attainable condition during the term of the 
variance. Such a requirement ensures that feasible progress will be 
made towards the designated use and the criterion to protect that use 
during the period of the variance.
    Requiring that states and tribes establish interim requirements 
that apply for purposes of CWA section 402 permitting and in issuing 
certifications under section 401 of the Act, and that such requirements 
reflect the highest attainable condition during the variance, creates a 
framework for variances to provide states and tribes with time to 
implement adaptive management approaches that drive progress towards 
meeting the designated use and criterion in a transparent and 
accountable manner--a key environmental benefit of a variance. This is 
consistent with previous EPA statements in the EPA's WQS Handbook and 
1998 ANPRM that discuss the EPA's position regarding the progress to be 
made during the term of the variance towards attaining the designated 
use and criterion.\25\
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    \25\ The EPA's 1994 WQS Handbook stated that ``EPA has approved 
state adopted variances in the past and will continue to do so if 
[hellip]reasonable progress is being made toward meeting the 
standards.'' The EPA's 1998 ANPRM indicated that the EPA was 
considering revising its regulations to include a requirement that 
before a variance may be granted the applicant must include 
documentation that ``[hellip]reasonable progress will be made toward 
meeting the underlying or original standard.'' The EPA did not 
propose a revised regulation at that time.
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    A state's or tribe's determination or identification of the highest 
attainable interim use need not be complex. A state or tribe could 
simply include the phrase ``variance affected'' or ``variance 
modified'' to the current use description or the state or tribe could 
describe the interim use by identifying the parameter included in the 
variance, such as ``pH-limited'' use as a way to provide transparency. 
States and tribes may find it appropriate to adopt such ``variance 
modified'' uses as the highest attainable interim use, rather than 
adopting an alternate use from the state or tribe's current use 
classification system, as they might be more likely to do if they were 
making a permanent change to a designated use. To determine the numeric 
criterion that protects the highest attainable interim use, a state or 
tribe shall determine the condition that is both feasible to attain and 
closest to the protection afforded by the designated use and criteria. 
A state's or tribe's determination of the highest attainable condition 
and numeric interim requirements to apply during a waterbody variance 
should include consideration and evaluation of pollutant reductions 
from all contributing sources. This could include an evaluation of the 
point source controls, pollutant minimization plans and NPS pollutant 
reductions that could be achieved in the water body.
    Rather than identifying the highest attainable interim use and 
interim numeric criterion, a state or tribe may choose to specify in 
its variance that the applicable interim water quality standard shall 
be defined by a numeric effluent condition that reflects the highest 
attainable condition for a specific permittee(s) during the term of the 
variance. Adopting a numeric effluent condition that reflects the 
highest attainable condition is reasonable because the resulting 
instream concentration reflects the highest attainable interim use and 
interim criterion and, therefore, the interim numeric effluent 
condition is acting as a surrogate for the interim use and interim 
criterion. If current effluent quality represents the highest 
attainable condition for a specific permittee(s), then this would 
become the interim requirement during the term of the variance. In 
situations where a variance addresses a pollutant(s) for which no 
feasible wastewater treatment option can be identified, an interim 
numeric water quality-based effluent condition reflecting the levels 
currently achievable and a requirement to develop and implement a 
Pollutant Minimization Program (PMP) \26\ together would constitute the 
highest attainable effluent condition.
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    \26\ A PMP is a structured process to reduce loadings of a 
pollutant by identifying, preventing and reducing loadings, 
improving processes and improving wastewater treatment.
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    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
3. Expiration Date
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (b)(1)(iii) at 40 CFR 131.14 
to require that all variances must include an expiration date and that 
variances must be as short as possible but expire no later than 10 
years after the date the state or tribe adopts the variance, consistent 
with Sec.  131.14(b)(2).
    Variances are time-limited; therefore, in order to promote 
consistency and clarity and to ensure that variances are truly time-
limited, the EPA is proposing that all variances include an explicit 
expiration date. Such expiration date must be consistent with the 
demonstration that a variance is needed for a specified period of time 
based on one of the factors identified in proposed Sec.  131.14(b)(2), 
must be as short as possible, and cannot exceed 10 years. Establishing 
an expiration date will ensure that the conditions of a variance will 
be thoroughly re-evaluated and subject to a public review on a regular 
and predictable basis to determine (1) whether conditions have changed 
such that the designated use and criterion are now attainable; (2) 
whether new or additional information has become available to indicate 
that the designated use and criterion are not attainable in the future 
(i.e., data or information supports a use change/refinement); or (3) 
whether feasible progress is being made toward the designated use and 
criterion and that additional time is needed to make further progress 
(i.e., whether a variance may be renewed).
    The EPA believes that up to 10 years is a reasonable duration for a 
variance, as it represents two 5-year NPDES permit terms and provides 
adequate opportunity to implement measures to make feasible progress. A 
maximum of 10 years is also sufficient to reflect changing 
circumstances, such as the availability of new economic information or 
affordable treatment technology that may impact whether or not a 
variance is still warranted.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
ii. Demonstrating the Need for a Variance--Supporting Documentation
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (b)(2) at 40 CFR 131.14 to 
specify that in order to document that a variance is needed for uses 
specified in section 101(a)(2) or sub-categories of such uses, the 
state or tribe must demonstrate that attaining the designated use and 
criterion is not feasible during the term of the variance because of 
one of the factors listed in Sec.  131.10(g) or because actions 
necessary to facilitate restoration through dam removal or other 
significant wetland or stream reconfiguration activities preclude 
attainment of the designated use and criterion while the actions are 
being implemented.

[[Page 54535]]

    The regulation at 40 CFR 131.10(g) identifies six factors that may 
be used to demonstrate, through a UAA, when a use specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the Act, or a subcategory of such a use, is unattainable. 
The EPA's current position (and its longstanding practice) is that one 
of these same Sec.  131.10(g) ``attainability'' factors must be used by 
states and tribes to justify why and for how long a variance is 
necessary for uses specified in section 101(a)(2) or sub-categories of 
such uses. In developing this proposed regulation, the EPA considered 
other situations where a variance may be appropriate and the EPA 
concluded that the current Sec.  131.10(g) factors do not accommodate 
situations where a variance may be necessary to facilitate short-term 
efforts to restore the natural physical features (i.e., natural 
geomorphology) of a system. Specifically, this is meant to address the 
situation when a time-limited exceedance of a criterion might be 
expected while efforts for dam removal or significant wetlands or 
stream reconfiguration/restoration efforts are underway to facilitate 
restoration of the natural physical features of a water body. The 
proposed new factor is intended only to cover the length of time 
necessary to remove the dam or the length of time in which stream 
restoration activities are actively on-going. Although such a variance 
might not directly impact a NPDES permittee, it may be necessary to 
allow states and tribes to certify that any federal license or permit 
that may result in the discharge of pollutants in state/tribal 
jurisdiction will still meet their state/tribal WQS, under CWA section 
401.
    In determining whether or not to grant a variance for uses 
specified in section 101(a)(2) and sub-categories of such uses (and 
subsequently submit such a variance to the EPA for review and 
approval), the state or tribe must consider and evaluate whether the 
available information supports a conclusion that the designated use and 
criteria are not feasible to attain during the variance period based on 
one of the factors listed in Sec.  131.14(b)(2).
    A factor that has been commonly used to demonstrate the need for a 
discharger specific variance is Sec.  131.10(g)(6), which provides that 
a state or tribe may remove a designated use if ``[c]ontrols more 
stringent than those required by sections 301(b) and 306 of the Act 
would result in substantial and widespread economic and social 
impact.'' The Interim Economic Guidance for Water Quality Standards, 
published March 1995 (see http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/economics/) provides guidance on the types of information 
that a state or tribe should consider evaluating and include in its 
record to support a variance based on Sec.  131.10(g)(6).\27\
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    \27\ The Sec.  131.10(g)(6) analysis would include costs of 
point source controls and the impacts on the surrounding community.
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    The state's or tribe's record for granting a variance based on 
``Human caused conditions or sources of pollution prevent the 
attainment of the use and cannot be remedied or would cause more 
environmental damage to correct than to leave in place'' \28\ may 
include, but not be limited to, consideration and evaluation of the 
following types of available information:
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    \28\ As specified in Sec.  131.10(g)(3) and cross-referenced in 
Sec.  131.14(b)(2)(i).
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     Monitoring data to determine the current ambient 
conditions.
     Data/maps showing the geographical extent of the problem.
     Engineering studies and literature of the relevant 
remediation alternatives and best management practices that could be 
implemented and documentation that none of the alternatives or 
practices, if implemented, would result in attaining the designated use 
and criteria within the variance timeframe.
     Description, with supporting information from the 
scientific literature, of the environmental impacts associated with the 
remedial alternatives and an analysis of what could be done in an 
environmentally safe manner. Such an analysis would facilitate a 
determination of whether the human caused condition or source of 
pollution would cause more environmental harm to remedy than to leave 
in place.
     Modeling data showing the associated pollutant reductions 
achievable within the timeframe of the variance compared to reductions 
needed to achieve the designated use and criteria.
    A variance should be a transparent mechanism that allows a state, 
tribe or discharger a defined period of time to conduct any necessary 
studies so long as the state or tribe demonstrates the need for the 
variance in accordance with the regulations and the state or tribe 
retains the applicable criteria for all other pollutants. The EPA 
commonly receives questions about whether permit compliance schedules 
can be used for this purpose. Permit compliance schedules may only be 
used in situations where time is needed for a permittee to come into 
compliance with the WQBEL in the permit, not to provide time to address 
uncertainty regarding the appropriateness or attainability of the WQS.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
iii. Identifying and Documenting the Controls for Other Sources Related 
to the Pollutant(s) and Location(s) Specified in a Waterbody Variance 
That Could Be Implemented
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (b)(3) at Sec.  131.14 to 
specify that, in addition to the other requirements under 131.14(b), 
for a waterbody variance (one not limited to a specific discharger or 
dischargers), a state or tribe must include an identification and 
documentation of any cost-effective and reasonable BMPs for nonpoint 
sources related to the pollutant(s) and location(s) specified in the 
variance that could be implemented water body wide to make progress 
towards attaining the designated use and criterion. A state or tribe 
must provide public notice and comment for any such documentation.
    Because other sources of pollution (e.g., nonpoint sources) can 
have a significant bearing on whether the designated use and associated 
criterion for the entire water body are attainable, it is essential for 
states and tribes to consider and provide information to the public 
regarding the impact that controlling other sources through application 
of cost-effective and reasonable BMPs could have on water quality 
before granting a waterbody variance. Doing so could inform the state's 
or tribe's assessment of what interim actions may be needed to make 
feasible progress towards attaining the designated use and criterion 
related to the pollutant(s) and location(s) specified in the variance, 
as well as what the highest attainable interim designated use and 
criterion may be and for how long they may be needed.
    A similar requirement is set out in the WQS regulation at Sec.  
131.10(d) and (h)(2) which specifies that a use is deemed attainable 
and cannot be removed if it can be achieved by the imposition of/
implementing effluent limits required under sections 301(b) and 306 of 
the Act as well as cost-effective and reasonable best management 
practices for nonpoint source control. The EPA's current position is 
that before removing a designated use states and tribes must first 
evaluate the impact that point and nonpoint source controls might have 
on water quality. When conducting such an evaluation, states and tribes 
should consider the impacts from

[[Page 54536]]

implementing any \29\ cost-effective and reasonable BMPs for nonpoint 
source controls water body wide. In situations where it can be 
demonstrated that a use is precluded by non-anthropogenic stressors 
(e.g., high levels of a naturally occurring metal in a surface water 
body), the EPA does not expect states and tribes to evaluate nonpoint 
source controls, as controlling nonpoint sources would not lead to 
attainment.
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    \29\ i.e., not just those that may already be required by state 
regulations.
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    The EPA's proposed requirement for waterbody variances differs from 
those applicable to designated uses because variances are time-limited 
and targeted serving as a tool to facilitate progress toward the 
designated use and criterion. It is unnecessary to require states and 
tribes to demonstrate that the designated use and criteria are 
unattainable even if cost effective and reasonable BMPs were 
implemented, as is required when revising a designated use, because 
variances do not ``permanently'' downgrade the designated use but 
establish a regulatory mechanism by which feasible progress will be 
made during the term of the variance. Instead, a requirement to 
identify and document cost-effective and reasonable BMPs for other 
sources will assist states and tribes in identifying the actions they 
may need to implement to meet their interim requirements as well as to 
make feasible progress towards attaining the designated use and 
criterion.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
c. Part 3--Implementing Variances
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (c) at 40 CFR 131.14 
specifying that variances serve as the basis of a WQBEL included in a 
NPDES permit for the period the variance is in effect. Any activities 
required to implement the variance shall be included as conditions of 
the NPDES permit for the permittee(s) subject to the variance.
    When variances are adopted and approved, they serve as the basis of 
a WQBEL included in a NPDES permit during the variance period. However, 
any specific actions that will be necessary for the discharger to 
implement the variance and make such feasible progress are typically at 
the discretion of the permitting authority. Therefore, in Sec.  
131.14(c), the EPA is proposing regulatory language similar to Sec.  
131.34(c) and Sec.  131.40(c) linking the requirements of variances to 
the NPDES permitting process, specifically 40 CFR 122.44(d)(1)(viii)(A) 
that requires the permitting authority to establish limitations that 
derive from and comply with the applicable WQS. The EPA believes the 
proposed regulatory requirement will ensure proper accountability when 
implementing variances. The proposed provision reflects the provisions 
in the ``Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System'' (40 CFR 
part 132, Appendix F, Procedure 2).
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
d. Part 4--How To Renew a Variance
    The EPA is proposing to add paragraph (d) at 40 CFR 131.14 to 
specify that to obtain the EPA's approval of a variance renewal, the 
state or tribe must meet the requirements of Sec.  131.14 and provide 
appropriate documentation of the steps taken to meet the requirements 
of the previous variance. Renewal of the variance may be disapproved if 
the applicant did not comply with the conditions of the original 
variance, or otherwise does not meet the requirements of this section. 
For renewal of a waterbody variance, the state or tribe must also 
include documentation of whether and to what extent cost-effective and 
reasonable BMPs have been implemented to address the pollutant(s) 
subject to the variance and the water quality progress achieved during 
the variance period.
    Although the EPA is proposing to establish a maximum single 
variance term of no more than 10 years, it recognizes that there may be 
circumstances in which a renewal of a variance is both necessary and 
appropriate. As the EPA's 1998 ANPRM articulates, variances are WQS and 
should be continued or extended only where the initial conditions for 
granting the variance still apply.\30\ If a variance term will expire 
and the applicant complied with the conditions of the original variance 
(e.g., feasible progress has been made), but the designated use and 
criterion remain unattainable, then renewal of a variance may be an 
appropriate option for the state or tribe to consider.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \30\ 63 FR 36759.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The EPA is providing an additional requirement for waterbody 
variances because both point and nonpoint sources are contributing to 
the water quality challenges. The state or tribe must document whether 
and to what extent BMPs have been implemented and the water quality 
progress achieved during the variance period.
    This proposed regulation explicitly provides that the EPA may 
disapprove a renewal of the variance if the applicant did not comply 
with the conditions of the original variance, or otherwise does not 
meet the requirements of Sec.  131.14. The EPA recognizes that 
circumstances out of the permittee, state's or tribe's control may 
impact the ability to meet the specific conditions and requirements of 
the variance, even if all required actions to implement the variance 
were completed. The proposed regulatory language allows the EPA to 
consider these factors when determining whether to grant a WQS variance 
renewal. If the EPA disapproves the variance renewal, then the state or 
tribe must implement its water quality program to meet the applicable 
designated use and associated criteria or conduct a UAA to justify a 
revision to the designated use and associated criteria.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.
e. Part 5--Variances for the EPA-Promulgated Designated Uses
    The EPA is proposing to delete detailed variance procedures 
promulgated by the EPA in 40 CFR 131.34(c) and 131.40(c) and replace 
them with language specifying that the appropriate Regional 
Administrators may grant variances from the EPA-promulgated regulations 
for Kansas and Puerto Rico consistent with this proposed requirements 
at Sec.  131.14.
    The EPA promulgated variance procedures that the Regional 
Administrator could use to grant variances from the specific WQS the 
EPA promulgated for Kansas and Puerto Rico in Sec.  131.34 and 131.40. 
This proposal reflects the most efficient and transparent approach to 
ensure that variances granted by the Regional Administrator for the 
federally promulgated standards in Kansas and Puerto Rico meet the same 
requirements as the rest of the United States once the EPA finalizes 
the nationally applicable revisions to 40 CFR part 131.
    The EPA invites comment on its proposal and on any other options it 
should consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.

G. Provisions Authorizing the Use of Permit-Based Compliance Schedule

1. The EPA Proposal
    The EPA is proposing to add a new regulatory provision at Sec.  
131.15 to be consistent with the decision of the EPA Administrator in 
In the Matter of Star-

[[Page 54537]]

Kist Caribe, Inc. (1990 WL 324290 (EPA), 1990 EPA App. LEXIS 45, 3 EAD 
172 (April 16, 1990)). This provision would clarify that a permitting 
authority may only issue compliance schedules for WQBELs in NPDES 
permits if the state or tribe has authorized issuance of such 
compliance schedules pursuant to state or tribal law in its water 
quality standards or implementing regulations. Any such compliance 
schedule authorizing provision is a WQS subject to the EPA's review and 
approval. The proposed provision would also clarify that individual 
compliance schedules issued pursuant to such authorizing provisions are 
not themselves WQS but must be consistent with CWA section 502(17), the 
state's or tribe's EPA-approved compliance schedule authorizing 
provision, and the requirements of 40 CFR 122.2 and 122.47.
2. Rationale for Revision
    CWA section 502(17) defines ``schedule of compliance'' to mean ``a 
schedule of remedial measures including an enforceable sequence of 
actions or operations leading to compliance with an effluent 
limitation, other limitation, prohibition, or standard.'' The EPA's 
NPDES regulation at 40 CFR 122.2 defines a schedule of compliance as 
``a schedule of remedial measures included in a `permit,' including an 
enforceable sequence of interim requirements . . . leading to 
compliance with the CWA and regulations.'' Section 301(b)(1)(C) of the 
Act specifies that there shall be achieved ``. . . not later than July 
1, 1977, any more stringent limitation, including those necessary to 
meet WQS, treatment standards, or schedules of compliance, established 
pursuant to any State law or regulations (under authority preserved by 
section 1370 of this title) or any other Federal law or regulation, or 
required to implement any applicable water quality standard established 
pursuant to this chapter.''
    In, In the Matter of Star-Kist Caribe, Inc., the EPA Administrator 
(in an appeal of an EPA-issued NPDES permit) interpreted CWA 
301(b)(1)(C) to mean that (1) after July 1, 1977, permits must require 
immediate compliance with (i.e., may not contain compliance schedules 
for) effluent limitations based on WQS adopted before July 1, 1977, and 
(2) permit compliance schedules are allowed for effluent limitations 
based on WQS adopted after that date only if the state or tribe has 
clearly indicated in its WQS or implementing regulations that it 
intends to allow them (i.e., the state's or tribe's WQS or implementing 
regulations must contain a provision authorizing the use of permit-
based compliance schedules). The latter requirement ensures that a 
permit including such a compliance schedule still meets WQS pursuant to 
CWA section 301(b)(1)(C).
    The EPA's current WQS regulation is silent regarding compliance 
schedules and compliance schedule authorizing provisions. As a result, 
despite Star-Kist, the EPA is concerned that state/tribal permitting 
authorities may be including compliance schedules in permits, thus 
delaying compliance with a WQS-based WQBEL, even though the state/tribe 
may not have authorized the use of such compliance schedules in its WQS 
or implementing regulations.
    Consistent with the Star-Kist decision, a state or tribe has the 
discretion to include a compliance schedule authorizing provision in 
its WQS or implementing regulations. Such a provision may also be 
codified in a state or tribe's NPDES regulations. However, regardless 
of where it appears, a compliance schedule authorizing provision 
adopted pursuant to state or tribal law is considered a WQS subject to 
the EPA's approval under CWA section 303(c)(3). Although a compliance 
schedule authorizing provision does not describe the desired condition 
or level of protection of a water body in exactly the same way as a 
designated use or water quality criteria, it expresses the state's or 
tribe's intent to allow a delay in meeting the desired condition. 
Compliance schedule authorizing provisions allow the permitting 
authority to provide a permittee additional time to comply with a WQBEL 
that derives from and complies with the applicable WQS beyond the date 
of permit issuance, which is the date upon which a permittee is 
otherwise required to comply with its WQBEL. In addition, as 
articulated in the Star-Kist decision, states and tribes may only allow 
this delay if the applicable WQS is new or revised, after July 1, 1977.
    When states and tribes authorize the use of compliance schedules in 
their WQS or implementing regulations, they ensure that WQBELs subject 
to appropriately issued compliance schedules are ``fully consistent 
with, and therefore `meet,' the requirements of the State or tribal 
water quality standard, as contemplated by [CWA] 301(b)(1)(C).'' Star-
Kist at 175. Once approved pursuant to CWA 303(c)(3), the compliance 
schedule authorizing provision itself becomes part of the applicable 
WQS; therefore, any delay in compliance with a WQBEL pursuant to that 
permit compliance schedule would be consistent with state/tribal WQS. A 
compliance schedule, as defined by section 502(17) of the Act, that is 
granted pursuant to a state's or tribe's approved compliance schedule 
authorizing provision is, on the other hand, a permitting tool and is 
not itself considered a WQS. The EPA has implemented section 502(17) of 
the Act in the context of the NPDES permitting program at 40 CFR 122.2 
and 122.47. Any compliance schedule, itself, must be consistent with 
these provisions.
    The EPA invites comments on the proposed addition of Sec.  131.15. 
The EPA also invites comment on any other options it should consider or 
on the interpretations expressed in this section.

H. Other Changes

1. The EPA Proposal
    In the course of developing this proposal, the EPA identified 
several spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and/or inconsistencies, 
and incorrect citations in 40 CFR part 131, as well as the need for 
various conforming edits (e.g., provisions that need to be re-numbered 
or re-lettered based on a regulatory addition or deletion outlined in 
this proposal). The EPA is proposing the following changes:
     Sec.  131.2: Change ``. . . necessary to protect the 
uses'' to ``. . . that protect the designated uses'' (consistency with 
terminology in Sec.  131.11).
     Sec.  131.3(h): Change ``technology-bases'' to 
``technology-based'' (spelling mistake).
     Sec.  131.3(j): Delete ``the Trust Territory of the 
Pacific Islands.'' \31\ Insert the word ``the'' in front of ``water 
quality standards program'' (grammatical clarification).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \31\ ``The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands'' became the 
``Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands'' in 1986 via 
Presidential Proclamation. See  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=36688#axzz1XrK7AXLN.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

     Sec.  131.5(a)(1): Change ``. . . has adopted water uses'' 
to ``. . . has adopted designated water uses'' (grammatical 
clarification).
     Sec.  131.5(a)(2): Insert ``. . . based on sound 
scientific rationale'' (consistency with language in Sec.  131.11).
     Sec.  131.10(j): Insert ``and Sec.  131.10(g)'' before the 
word ``whenever'' (consistency with proposed revisions to Sec.  
131.10(g)).
     Sec.  131.10(j)(2): Insert ``, to remove a subcategory of 
such a use,'' after the first instance of ``. . . specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the Act'' (legal clarification that a UAA is also required 
when removing a subcategory of a use specified in section 101(a)(2) of 
the Act without adopting another use in its place).

[[Page 54538]]

     Sec.  131.11(a)(2): Change reference from ``40 CFR part 
35'' to ``40 CFR part 130'' to reflect the correct citation.
     Sec.  131.11(b): Italicize ``Form of criteria'' 
(consistency with formatting in Sec.  131.11(a)).
     Sec.  131.12(a)(2): Insert ``the protection and'' into the 
phrase ``propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife'' to be consistent 
with CWA 101(a)(2) and the rest of the WQS regulation at part 131. 
Change ``assure'' to ``ensure'' (grammatical clarification).
     Sec.  131.20(b): Change ``hold a public hearing'' to 
``hold public hearings'' and add ``or revising'' after ``reviewing'' 
(consistency with CWA 303(c) and Sec.  131.20(a)). Insert ``EPA's'' in 
front of ``public participation regulation'' (clarification that 40 CFR 
part 25 is the EPA's regulation). Delete the phrase ``EPA's water 
quality management regulation (40 CFR 130.3(b)(6))'' (nonexistent 
citation).
    The EPA invites comments on the proposed amendments described 
above. The EPA also invites comment on any other options it should 
consider or on the interpretations expressed in this section.

IV. When does this action take effect?

    Comments on this proposed rulemaking must be received on or before 
December 3, 2013. Should this proposed rulemaking be finalized, the 
effective date will likely be 60 days after date of publication of the 
final rule in the Federal Register. For judicial review purposes, the 
effective date will likely be 60 days after date of publication of the 
final rule in the Federal Register.
    The EPA is proposing to require states and tribes to meet the 
requirements of the final rule on the effective date of the final rule. 
The EPA's expectation is that, where a new or revised requirement 
necessitates a change to state or tribal WQS, such changes will occur 
within the next triennial review that the state or tribe initiates 
after the EPA's publication of the final rule.
    The EPA invites comments on the proposed effective dates. The EPA 
also invites comment on any other options it should consider or on the 
interpretations expressed in this section.

V. Economic Impacts on State and Tribal WQS Programs

    The EPA evaluated the potential incremental administrative burdens 
and costs that may be associated with this proposal. Incremental burden 
and costs are those above and beyond the burden and costs associated 
with implementation of current WQS regulations. Because this proposal 
will not establish any requirements directly applicable to regulated 
entities, the focus of the EPA's economic analysis is to estimate the 
potential administrative burden and costs to state, tribal, and 
territorial governments, and the EPA. The EPA's economic analysis is 
documented in Economic Analysis for the Water Quality Standards 
Regulatory Clarifications (Proposed Rule) and can be found in the 
docket for this proposal.
    The EPA assessed the potential incremental burden and costs 
associated with this proposed regulation revisions by first identifying 
those elements of the proposed revisions that may impose incremental 
burdens and costs. The EPA estimated the incremental number of labor 
hours potentially required by states and tribes to comply with those 
elements of the proposed regulations, and then estimated the costs 
associated with those additional labor hours. The EPA identified four 
areas where incremental burdens and costs may be anticipated: (1) One-
time burden and costs associated with state and tribal rulemaking 
activities because states and tribes may need to adopt new or revised 
provisions into their WQS, (2) annual costs associated with designating 
uses because identifying the highest attainable use when performing a 
UAA may require additional labor hours, (3) annual costs associated 
with antidegradation implementation including reviewing a greater 
number and more complex antidegradation requests, and (4) annual costs 
associated with additional development and documentation of variance 
requests. In addition to the proposed requirements included in this 
proposal, the EPA is considering and requesting comment on whether the 
EPA should include a requirement that antidegradation implementation 
methods be formally adopted as WQS and thus subject to the EPA's review 
and approval or disapproval. Incremental burden and costs were 
estimated for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 5 territories, 
and the 39 Indian tribes authorized to administer a WQS program with 
WQS approved by the EPA.
    Estimates of the incremental administrative burden and costs to 
state and tribal governments associated with this proposal without the 
requirement to adopt antidegradation implementation methods as WQS are 
summarized in the following table:

  Summary of Incremental Administrative Burden and Costs to State and Tribal Governments Associated With This Proposal Without the Requirement To Adopt
                                                      Antidegradation Implementation Methods as WQS
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                   One-time                                       Recurring
                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        Provision                                                                 Annualized cost
                                                             Burden (hours)      Cost (2013$      (2013$ millions/    Burden (hours/      Cost (2013$
                                                                                  millions)          year) \1\            year)          millions/year)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Rulemaking Activities....................................       9,500-47,500        $0.46-$2.28        $0.03-$0.15                 --                 --
Designated Uses..........................................                 --                 --                 --          240-1,200        $0.01-$0.06
Antidegradation \2\......................................                 --                 --                 --     97,070-145,605        $4.61-$7.04
Variances................................................                 --                 --                 --        4,620-5,310        $0.22-$0.26
����������������������������������������������������������
    National Total.......................................       9,500-47,500        $0.46-$2.28        $0.03-$0.15    101,930-152,115        $4.84-$7.36
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
`--' = not applicable.
\1\ Although the EPA expects these one-time costs to occur once over a 3 year period, they are annualized here at 3% discount rate over 20 years for
  comparative purposes.
\2\ Includes annual costs associated with reviewing a greater number and more complex antidegradation requests.

    Estimates of the incremental administrative burden and costs to the 
EPA associated with this proposal without the requirement to adopt 
antidegradation implementation methods as WQS are summarized in the 
following table:

[[Page 54539]]



       Summary of Potential Incremental Administrative Burden and Costs to the EPA Associated With This Proposal Without the Requirement To Adopt
                                                      Antidegradation Implementation Methods as WQS
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                      One-time                                                                     Recurring
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                   Annualized cost               Burden                                                              Burden
 Costs to states    Costs to the    to the agency  ---------------------------------- Costs to states    Costs to the  ---------------------------------
   and tribes        agency \1\       \2\ (2013$                                         and tribes       agency \1\
 (2013$ million)  (2013$ million)    million per       Hours \3\         FTEs \4\      (2013$ million   (2013$ million   Hours per year   FTEs per year
                                        year)                                            per year)        per year)           \3\              \4\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    $0.46-$2.28      $0.09-$0.46      $0.01-$0.03      1,200-6,040         0.58-2.9      $4.84-$7.36      $0.97-$1.47    12,810-19,470        6.16-9.36
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Assuming that the incremental costs to the EPA are equal to 20% of the costs to states and tribes.
\2\ Although the EPA expects these one-time costs to occur once over a 3 year period, they are annualized here at 3% discount rate over 20 years for
  comparative purposes.
\3\ Total costs to the Agency divided by hourly wage rate (including overhead and benefits) of $75.55 per hour.
\4\ Burden hours to the Agency divided by hours worked by full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per year (2,080 hours per year).

    A summary of the combined estimated costs to all potentially affect 
states, tribes, and the EPA without the requirement to adopt 
antidegradation implementation methods as WQS are summarized in the 
following table:

     Summary of Potential Incremental Administrative Burdens and Costs Associated With the Proposed Rule to States, Tribes, and the EPA Without the
                                           Requirement To Adopt Antidegradation Implementation Methods as WQS
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                   One-time                                       Recurring
                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                         Entities                                                                 Annualized cost
                                                             Burden (hours)      Cost (2013$         \1\ (2013$       Burden (hours/       Cost (2013
                                                                                  millions)        million/year)          year)         $millions/year)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
States and tribes........................................       9,500-47,500        $0.46-$2.28        $0.03-$0.15    101,930-152,115        $4.84-$7.36
Agency...................................................        1,200-6,040        $0.09-$0.46        $0.01-$0.03      12,810-19,470        $0.97-$1.47
                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total................................................      10,700-53,540        $0.55-$2.74        $0.04-$0.18    114,740-171,585        $5.81-$8.83
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Although the EPA expects these one-time costs to occur once over a 3 year period, they are annualized here at 3% discount rate over 20 years for
  comparative purposes.

    To estimate the total annual cost of this proposal without the 
requirement to adopt antidegradation implementation methods as WQS 
which include both one-time costs and recurring costs, the EPA 
annualized the one-time costs over a period of 20 years. Using a 20-
year annualization period and a discount rate of three percent, total 
annual costs for this proposal without the requirement to adopt 
antidegradation implementation methods as WQS are estimated to range 
from $5.84 million ($0.04 million + $5.81 million) to $9.01 million 
($0.18 million + $8.83 million) per year.
    In addition to the proposed requirements included in this proposal, 
the EPA is considering and requesting comment on whether the EPA should 
include a requirement that antidegradation implementation methods be 
formally adopted as WQS and thus subject to the EPA's review and 
approval or disapproval. This additional requirement would require 
affected entities to develop or revise antidegradation implementation 
methods, and adopt the implementation methods in WQS, resulting in one-
time (nonrecurring) burden and costs. Estimates of the incremental 
administrative burden and costs to state and tribal governments 
associated with this proposal including the requirement to adopt 
antidegradation implementation methods into WQS are summarized in the 
following table:

   Summary of Incremental Administrative Burden and Costs to State and Tribal Governments Associated With This Proposal With the Requirement To Adopt
                                                      Antidegradation Implementation Methods as WQS
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                   One-time                                       Recurring
                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        Provision                                                                 Annualized cost
                                                             Burden (hours)      Cost (2013$         \1\ (2013$       Burden (hours/      Cost (2013$
                                                                                  millions)        millions/year)         year)          millions/year)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Rulemaking Activities....................................       9,500-47,500        $0.46-$2.28        $0.03-$0.15                 --                 --
Designated Uses..........................................                 --                 --                 --          240-1,200        $0.01-$0.06
Antidegradation..........................................      33,600-67,200          1.61-3.23          0.11-0.22     97,070-145,605          4.61-7.04
Variances................................................                 --                 --                 --        4,620-5,310          0.22-0.26
                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    National Total.......................................     43,100-114,700          2.07-5.51          0.14-0.37    101,930-152,115          4.84-7.36
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
`--' = not applicable.
\1\ Although the EPA expects these one-time costs to occur once over a 3 year period, they are annualized here at 3% discount rate over 20 years for
  comparative purposes.

    Estimates of the incremental administrative burden and costs to the 
EPA associated with this proposal including the requirement to adopt 
antidegradation implementation

[[Page 54540]]

methods into WQS are summarized in the following table:

 Summary of Potential Incremental Administrative Burden and Costs to the EPA Associated With This Proposal With the Requirement To Adopt Antidegradation
                                                              Implementation Methods as WQS
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                      One-time                                                                     Recurring
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                   Annualized cost               Burden                                                              Burden
 Costs to states    Costs to the    to the agency  ---------------------------------- Costs to states    Costs to the  ---------------------------------
   and tribes        agency \1\       \2\ (2013$                                         and tribes       agency \1\
 (2013$ million)  (2013$ million)    million per       Hours \3\         FTEs \4\      (2013$ million   (2013$ million   Hours per year   FTEs per year
                                        year)                                            per year)        per year)           \3\              \4\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    $2.07-$5.51      $0.41-$1.10      $0.03-$0.07     5,480-14,570        2.63-7.01      $4.84-$7.36      $0.97-$1.47    12,810-19,470        6.16-9.36
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Assuming that the incremental costs to the EPA are equal to 20% of the costs to states and tribes.
\2\ Although the EPA expects these one-time costs to occur once over a 3 year period, they are annualized here at 3% discount rate over 20 years for
  comparative purposes.
\3\ Total costs to the Agency divided by hourly wage rate (including overhead and benefits) of $75.55 per hour.
\4\ Burden hours to the Agency divided by hours worked by full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per year (2,080 hours per year).

    A summary of the combined estimated costs of this proposal to all 
potentially affect states, tribes, and the EPA including the 
requirement to adopt antidegradation implementation methods into WQS 
are summarized in the following table.

 Summary of Potential Incremental Administrative Burdens and Costs Associated With the Proposed Rule to States, Tribes, and the EPA With the Requirement
                                                 To Adopt Antidegradation Implementation Methods as WQS
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                   One-time                                       Recurring
                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                         Entities                                                                 Annualized cost
                                                             Burden (hours)      Cost (2013$         \1\ (2013$       Burden (hours/       Cost (2013
                                                                                  millions)        millions/year)         year)         $millions/year)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
States and tribes........................................     43,100-114,700        $2.07-$5.51        $0.14-$0.37    101,930-152,115        $4.84-$7.36
Agency...................................................       5,480-14,570        $0.41-$1.10        $0.03-$0.07      12,810-19,470        $0.97-$1.47
                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total................................................     48,580-129,270        $2.48-$6.61        $0.17-$0.44    114,740-171,585        $5.81-$8.83
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Although the EPA expects these one-time costs to occur once over a 3 year period, they are annualized here at 3% discount rate over 20 years for
  comparative purposes.

    To estimate the total annual cost of this proposal including the 
requirement to adopt antidegradation implementation methods as WQS 
which include both one-time costs and recurring costs, the EPA 
annualized the one-time costs over a period of 20 years. Using a 20-
year annualization period and a discount rate of three percent, total 
annual costs for this proposal with the requirement to adopt 
antidegradation implementation methods as WQS are estimated to range 
from $5.98 million ($0.17 million + $5.81 million) to $9.27 million 
($0.44 million + $8.83 million) per year.
    In addition to estimating potential burden and costs, the EPA also 
evaluated the potential benefits associated with this proposal. States, 
tribes, stakeholders, and the public will benefit from the proposed 
clarifications of the WQS regulations by ensuring better utilization of 
available WQS tools that allow states and tribes the flexibility to 
implement their WQS in an efficient manner while providing transparency 
and open public participation. Although associated with potential 
administrative burden and costs in some areas, this proposal has the 
potential to partially offset these costs by reducing regulatory 
uncertainty and consequently increasing overall program efficiency. 
Furthermore, more efficient and effective implementation of state and 
tribal WQS has the potential to provide a variety of economic benefits 
associated with cleaner water including the availability of clean, 
safe, and affordable drinking water, water of adequate quality for 
agricultural and industrial use, and water quality that supports the 
commercial fishing industry and higher property values. Nonmarket 
benefits of this proposal include the protection and improvement of 
public health and greater recreational opportunities. The EPA 
acknowledges that achievement of any benefits associated with cleaner 
water would involve additional control measures, and thus costs to 
regulated entities and non-point sources, that have not been included 
in the economic analyses for this proposed rule. The EPA has not 
attempted to quantify either the costs of such control measures that 
might ultimately be required as a result of this rule, or the benefits 
they would provide. Complete details on how the EPA evaluated burden, 
costs, and benefits are documented in Economic Analysis for the Water 
Quality Standards Regulatory Clarifications (Proposed Rule) included in 
the docket for this proposal.
    The EPA invites comments on its economic analysis. Specifically, 
the EPA invites comments on the accuracy of the burden and costs 
estimates presented in this proposal, and any actual state or tribal 
data that may help to refine these estimates. This proposal does not 
establish any requirements directly applicable to regulated point 
sources or nonpoint sources of pollution, although the EPA recognizes 
that these sources could potentially incur costs as a result of changes 
to WQS adopted by states and tribes as a result of this rule (states 
and tribes could also adopt new or revised WQS independent of this 
proposed rule). However, unlike some other EPA WQS rules for which an 
economic analysis was prepared, this proposal does not lend itself to 
identification of readily predictable outcomes regarding changes to 
state water quality standards that might result. Likewise, the EPA 
could

[[Page 54541]]

not predict requirements that could ultimately be imposed on NPDES 
permittees and nonpoint sources. Thus, the EPA has not analyzed 
potential costs or cost savings associated with any consequences of 
revised state or tribal WQS. Nonetheless, the EPA is interested in the 
potential implications of this proposal for regulated entities and non-
point sources and on whether and how it should incorporate such costs 
in its economic analysis of the rule.

VI. Statutory and Executive Order Reviews

A. Executive Order 12866: Regulatory Planning and Review and Executive 
Order 13563: Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review

    Under Executive Order (E.O.) 12866 (58 FR 51735, October 4, 1993), 
this action is a ``significant regulatory action.'' Accordingly, the 
EPA submitted this action to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 
for review under E.O.s 12866 and 13563 (76 FR 3821, January 21, 2011) 
and any changes made in response to OMB recommendations have been 
documented in the docket for this action.
    In addition, the EPA prepared an analysis of the potential costs 
and benefits associated with this action. This analysis is contained in 
``Economic Analysis for the Proposed Revisions to Water Quality 
Standards Regulatory Revisions.'' A copy of the analysis is available 
in the docket for this action and the analysis is briefly summarized in 
Section V of the preamble.

B. Paperwork Reduction Act

    The information collection requirements in this proposed rule have 
been submitted for approval to the Office of Management and Budget 
(OMB) under the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq. The 
Information Collection Request (ICR) document prepared by the EPA has 
been assigned EPA ICR number 2449.01.
    The EPA is proposing the WQS Regulatory Clarifications Rule to 
improve the regulation's effectiveness in helping restore and maintain 
the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's 
waters. The core of the current regulation has been in place since 
1983; since then, a number of issues have been raised by stakeholders 
or identified by the EPA in the implementation process that will 
benefit from clarification and greater specificity. The proposed rule 
addresses the following key program areas: (1) Administrator's 
determinations that new or revised WQS are necessary, (2) designated 
uses, (3) triennial reviews, (4) antidegradation, (5) variances to WQS, 
and (5) compliance schedule authorizing provisions. In addition to the 
proposed requirements included in this proposal, the EPA is considering 
and requesting comment on whether the EPA should require that 
antidegradation implementation methods be adopted as WQS and thus 
subject to the EPA's review and approval or disapproval. This mandatory 
information collection will ensure the EPA has the needed information 
to review standards and make approvals or disapprovals in accordance 
with provisions in the proposed Water Quality Standards Regulatory 
Clarifications Rule. Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the EPA is 
responsible for reviewing and approving or disapproving new and revised 
WQS submitted by states and tribes. The EPA will use the information 
required by this proposed rule to carry out its responsibility under 
the CWA. In reviewing state and tribal standards submissions, the EPA 
considers whether submissions are consistent with the WQS regulation at 
part 131. The WQS Regulatory Clarifications Rule will add new 
requirements to part 131. If the information collection activities in 
the WQS Regulatory Clarifications Rule are not carried out, specific 
improvements in the implementation of the WQS program will not take 
place. In some cases, implementation and control steps such as total 
maximum daily loads and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System 
permits may not be as protective as necessary under the CWA.
    Burden is defined at 5 CFR 1320.3(b). The EPA expects that the 
proposed rule will lead to incremental burden hours and labor costs in 
the following areas: rulemaking activities, designated uses, 
antidegradation, and variances to WQS. The EPA estimates the cost of 
labor from data on state government hourly wage rates (data are not 
available for tribes). The labor categories chosen as applicable to WQS 
regulatory revision efforts are Environmental Scientist, Department 
Manager, Environmental Engineer, and Economist. Given the 2012 labor 
rates for these categories, inflated to March 2013 dollars using the 
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Employment Cost Index for professional 
and related state and local government workers (116.0/115.0 = 1.01), 
and accounting for benefits using the BLS Employer Cost for Employee 
Compensation for state and local professional government workers (32.7% 
of total compensation is attributable to benefits), the EPA calculated 
an average hourly wage rate of $48.
    The EPA estimates the incremental number of labor hours using 
historical information and data, and the historical knowledge and best 
professional judgment of EPA personnel with experience administering 
the WQS program. A total of 95 governmental entities are potentially 
affected by the proposed rule: 50 states, the District of Columbia, 6 
territories, and 39 tribes that have authority to administer WQS 
programs. Rulemaking activities result in one-time (nonrecurring) 
burden and costs. Note that these one-time activities will occur over 
an initial three-year period. The proposed rule will also require 
affected entities to undertake the following activities each year: 
conduct use attainability analyses to determine the highest attainable 
use, review alternative analyses in antidegradation requests, review 
additional antidegradation requests for high quality waters, comply 
with new submission requirements for variances, and review additional 
variance renewal applications. Given the EPA's estimates of the number 
and frequency of labor hours associated with each of the proposed 
provisions, the total one-time incremental burden (during each of the 
first three years) associated with the proposed rule without requiring 
adoption of antidegradation implementation methods as WQS ranges from 
9,500 hours to 47,500 hours, while the annual incremental burden ranges 
from 101,930 hours to 152,115 hours. Given an hourly wage rate of $48, 
these labor hours lead to total one-time costs (incurred during each of 
the first three years) of approximately $0.46 million to $2.28 million 
and annual costs of $4.84 million to $7.36 million. These incremental 
burden and costs are associated with a total of 32 one-time responses 
per year during the initial three-year period for rulemaking 
activities. In addition, the number of annual responses is 1,405 
responses.
    In addition to the proposed requirements included in this proposal, 
the EPA is considering and requesting comment on whether the EPA should 
include a requirement that antidegradation implementation methods be 
formally adopted as WQS and thus subject to the EPA's review and 
approval or disapproval. This additional requirement would require 
affected entities to develop or revise antidegradation implementation 
methods, and adopt antidegradation implementation methods as WQS 
resulting in one-time (nonrecurring) burden and costs. Including this

[[Page 54542]]

additional requirement, the total one-time incremental burden (during 
each of the first three years) associated with the proposed rule ranges 
from 43,100 hours to 114,700 hours, while the annual incremental burden 
remains the same ranging from 101,930 hours to 152,115 hours. Given an 
hourly wage rate of $48, these labor hours lead to total one-time costs 
(incurred during each of the first three years) of approximately $2.07 
to $5.51 million and annual costs of $4.84 to $7.36 million. These 
incremental burden and costs are associated with a total of 32 one-time 
responses per year during the initial three-year period for rulemaking 
activities. In addition, the number of annual responses is 1,405 
responses.
    An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required 
to respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a 
currently valid OMB control number. The OMB control numbers for EPA's 
regulations in 40 CFR are listed in 40 CFR part 9.
    To comment on the Agency's need for this information, the accuracy 
of the provided burden estimates, and any suggested methods for 
minimizing respondent burden, the EPA has established a public docket 
for this rule, which includes this ICR, under Docket ID number EPA-HQ-
OW-2010-0606. Submit any comments related to the ICR to the EPA and 
OMB. See ADDRESSES section at the beginning of this notice for where to 
submit comments to the EPA. Send comments to OMB at the Office of 
Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, 
725 17th Street NW., Washington, DC 20503, Attention: Desk Office for 
EPA. Since OMB is required to make a decision concerning the ICR 
between 30 and 60 days after September 4, 2013, a comment to OMB is 
best assured of having its full effect if OMB receives it by October 4, 
2013. The final rule will respond to any OMB or public comments on the 
information collection requirements contained in this proposal.

C. Regulatory Flexibility Act

    The Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) generally requires an agency 
to prepare a regulatory flexibility analysis of any rule subject to 
notice and comment rulemaking requirements under the Administrative 
Procedure Act or any other statute unless the agency certifies that the 
rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial 
number of small entities. Small entities include small businesses, 
small organizations, and small governmental jurisdictions.
    For purposes of assessing the impacts of this rule on small 
entities, small entity is defined as (1) a small business as defined by 
the Small Business Administration's (SBA) regulations at 13 CFR 
121.201; (2) a small governmental jurisdiction that is a government of 
a city, county, town, school district or special district with a 
population of less than 50,000; and (3) a small organization that is 
any not-for-profit enterprise which is independently owned and operated 
and is not dominant in its field.
    After considering the economic impacts of this proposed rule on 
small entities, I certify that this action will not have a significant 
economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. This 
proposed rule will not impose any requirements on small entities.
    State and tribal governments responsible for administering or 
overseeing water quality programs may be directly affected by this 
rulemaking, as states and tribes may need to consider and implement new 
provisions, or revise existing provisions, in their WQS. Small 
entities, such as small businesses or small governmental jurisdictions, 
are not directly regulated by this rule. The EPA continues to be 
interested in the potential impacts of the proposed rule on small 
entities and welcomes comments on issues related to such impacts.

D. Unfunded Mandates Reform Act

    This rule does not contain a Federal mandate that may result in 
expenditures of $100 million or more for state, local, and tribal 
governments, in the aggregate, or for the private sector in any one 
year. The EPA estimates total annual costs to states and tribes to 
range from $4,840,000 to $7,360,000. Thus, this rule is not subject to 
the requirements of sections 202 or 205 of the Unfunded Mandates Reform 
Act of 1995 (UMRA).
    This rule is also not subject to the requirements of section 203 of 
UMRA because it contains no regulatory requirements that might 
significantly or uniquely affect small governments.

E. Executive Order 13132 (Federalism)

    Under section 6(b) of E.O. 13132, the EPA may not issue an action 
that has federalism implications, that imposes substantial direct 
compliance costs, and that is not required by statute, unless the 
Federal government provides the funds necessary to pay the direct 
compliance costs incurred by state and local governments, or the EPA 
consults with state and local officials early in the process of 
developing the proposed action. In addition, under section 6(c) of E.O. 
13132, the EPA may not issue an action that has federalism implications 
and that preempts state law, unless the Agency consults with state and 
local officials early in the process of developing the proposed action.
    The EPA has concluded that the action does not have federalism 
implications. The EPA is proposing changes to provide clarity and 
transparency in the WQS regulation that may require state and local 
officials to reevaluate or revise their standards. However, it will not 
impose substantial direct compliance costs on state or local 
governments, nor will it preempt state law. Thus, the requirements of 
sections 6(b) and 6(c) of the E.O. do not apply to this action.
    Consistent with the EPA's policy, the EPA nonetheless consulted 
with state and local officials early in the process of developing the 
proposed action to allow them to provide meaningful and timely input 
into its development. In August and September 2010, the EPA consulted 
with representatives from states and intergovernmental associations to 
hear their views on the proposed regulatory changes. Participants 
expressed concern that the proposed changes may impose a resource 
burden on state and local governments, as well as infringe on states' 
flexibility in the areas of antidegradation and designated uses. The 
EPA's view is that such changes would generally codify the EPA's 
current practice and provide clear expectations to state and local 
regulators. Participants urged the EPA to ensure that states with 
satisfactory regulations in these areas are not unduly burdened by the 
proposed changes.
    Keeping with the spirit of E.O. 13132, and consistent with the 
EPA's policy to promote communications between the EPA and state and 
local governments, the EPA specifically solicits comment on this 
proposed action from state and local officials. In particular, the EPA 
requests comment on any provision in this proposed rule that state 
officials believe would impose an undue burden on state water quality 
standards programs.

F. Executive Order 13175

    Subject to the E.O. 13175 (65 FR 67249, November 9, 2000), the EPA 
may not issue a regulation that has tribal implications, that imposes 
substantial direct compliance costs, and that is not required by 
statute, unless the federal government provides the funds necessary to 
pay the direct compliance costs incurred by tribal governments, or the 
EPA consults with tribal officials early in the process of developing 
the proposed regulation and develops a tribal summary impact statement.

[[Page 54543]]

    The EPA has concluded that this action may have tribal 
implications. However, it will neither impose substantial direct 
compliance costs on tribal governments, nor preempt tribal law. To 
date, 48 Indian tribes have been approved for treatment in a manner 
similar to a state (TAS) for CWA sections 303 and 401. Of the 48 
tribes, 39 have federally approved WQS in their respective 
jurisdictions. All of these authorized tribes are subject to this 
proposed rule. However, this rule might impact other tribes as well 
because federal, state or authorized tribal standards may apply to 
waters adjacent to the tribal waters. The EPA consulted with tribal 
officials early in the process of developing this regulation to allow 
them to provide meaningful and timely input into its development. In 
August 2010, the EPA held a tribes-only consultation session to hear 
their views and answer questions of all interested tribes on the 
targeted areas the EPA is considering for regulatory revision. Tribes 
expressed the need for additional guidance and assistance in 
implementing the proposed rulemaking, specifically for development of 
antidegradation implementation methods and determination of the highest 
attainable use. The EPA has considered the burden to states and tribes 
in developing this proposal and, when possible, has chosen to provide 
sufficient direction and flexibility to allow tribes to spend resources 
addressing other aspects of their WQS programs. The EPA also intends to 
release updated guidance in a new edition of the WQS Handbook. The EPA 
specifically solicits additional comment on this proposed action from 
tribal officials.

G. Executive Order 13045: Protection of Children From Environmental 
Health Risks and Safety Risks

    This action is not subject to E.O. 13045 (62 FR 19885, April 23, 
1997) because it is not economically significant as defined in E.O. 
12866, and because the Agency does not believe the environmental health 
or safety risks addressed by this action present a disproportionate 
risk to children.

H. Executive Order 13211: Actions Concerning Regulations That 
Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use

    This action is not a ``significant energy action'' as defined in 
E.O. 13211 (66 FR 28355, May 22, 2001), because it is not likely to 
have a significant adverse effect on the supply, distribution, or use 
of energy.

I. National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act

    Section 12(d) of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement 
Act of 1995 (NTTAA), Pub. L. 104-113, 12(d) (15 U.S.C. 272 note) 
directs the EPA to use voluntary consensus standards in its regulatory 
activities unless to do so would be inconsistent with applicable law or 
otherwise impractical. Voluntary consensus standards are technical 
standards (e.g., materials specifications, test methods, sampling 
procedures, and business practices) that are developed or adopted by 
voluntary consensus standards bodies. NTTAA directs the EPA to provide 
Congress, through OMB, explanations when the Agency decides not to use 
available and applicable voluntary consensus standards.
    This proposed rulemaking does not involve technical standards. 
Therefore, the EPA is not considering the use of any voluntary 
consensus standards.

J. Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions To Address Environmental 
Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations

    E.O. 12898 (59 FR 7629, February 16,1994) establishes federal 
executive policy on environmental justice. Its main provision directs 
federal agencies, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by 
law, to make environmental justice part of their mission by identifying 
and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse 
human health or environmental effects of their programs, policies, and 
activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the 
United States.
    The EPA has determined that this proposed rule will not have 
disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental 
effects on minority or low-income populations because it does not 
adversely affect the level of protection provided to human health or 
the environment. This proposed rulemaking does not directly establish 
water quality standards for a state or tribe. In addition, this 
proposed rulemaking is national in scope, and therefore is not specific 
to a particular geographic area(s).

List of Subjects in 40 CFR Part 131

    Environmental protection, Indians--lands, Intergovernmental 
relations, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Water pollution 
control.

    Dated: August 20, 2013.
Gina McCarthy,
Administrator.

    For the reasons stated in the preamble, the EPA proposes to amend 
40 CFR part 131 as follows:

PART 131--WATER QUALITY STANDARDS

0
1. The authority citation for part 131 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.

Subpart A--General Provisions

0
2. Amend Sec.  131.2 by revising the first sentence to read as follows:


Sec.  131.2  Purpose.

    A water quality standard defines the water quality goals of a water 
body, or portion thereof, by designating the use or uses to be made of 
the water and by setting criteria that protect the designated uses. * * 
*
0
3. Amend Sec.  131.3 by revising paragraphs (h) and (j), and adding 
paragraph (m) to read as follows:


Sec.  131.3  Definitions.

* * * * *
    (h) Water quality limited segment means any segment where it is 
known that water quality does not meet applicable water quality 
standards, and/or is not expected to meet applicable water quality 
standards, even after the application of the technology-based effluent 
limitations required by sections 301(b) and 306 of the Act.
* * * * *
    (j) States include: The 50 States, the District of Columbia, Guam, 
the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the 
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Indian Tribes that 
EPA determines to be eligible for purposes of the water quality 
standards program.
* * * * *
    (m) Highest attainable use is the aquatic life, wildlife, and/or 
recreation use that is both closest to the uses specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the Act and attainable, as determined using best available 
data and information through a use attainability analysis defined in 
Sec.  131.3(g).
0
4. Amend Sec.  131.5 by:
0
a. Revising paragraphs (a)(1) and (a)(2);
0
b. Redesignating paragraphs (a)(3) through (a)(5) as (a)(4) through 
(a)(6) and adding a new paragraph (a)(3); and
0
c. Revising paragraph (b).
    The revisions and additions read as follows:

[[Page 54544]]

Sec.  131.5  EPA Authority.

    (a) * * *
    (1) Whether the State has adopted designated water uses which are 
consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act;
    (2) Whether the State has adopted criteria that protect the 
designated water uses based on sound scientific rationale;
    (3) Whether the State has adopted an antidegradation policy 
consistent with Sec.  131.12(a), and if the State has chosen to adopt 
implementation methods, whether those implementation methods are 
consistent with Sec.  131.12;
* * * * *
    (b) If EPA determines that the State's or Tribe's water quality 
standards are consistent with the factors listed in paragraphs (a)(1) 
through (a)(6) of this section, EPA approves the standards. EPA must 
disapprove the State's or Tribe's water quality standards and 
promulgate Federal standards under section 303(c)(4), and for Great 
Lakes States or Great Lakes Tribes under section 118(c)(2)(C) of the 
Act, if State or Tribal adopted standards are not consistent with the 
factors listed in paragraphs (a)(1) through (a)(6) of this section. EPA 
may also promulgate a new or revised standard when necessary to meet 
the requirements of the Act.
* * * * *

Subpart B--Establishment of Water Quality Standards

0
5. Amend Sec.  131.10 by revising paragraph (g) introductory text and 
paragraphs (j), and (k) to read as follows:


Sec.  131.10  Designation of uses.

* * * * *
    (g) Pursuant to Sec.  131.10(j), States may designate or remove a 
use or a sub-category of a use as long as the action does not remove 
protection for an existing use, and the State can demonstrate that 
attaining the use is not feasible because of one of the six factors in 
this paragraph. If a State adopts new or revised water quality 
standards based on a use attainability analysis, the State shall also 
adopt the highest attainable use and the criteria to protect that use. 
To meet this requirement, States may, at their discretion, utilize 
their current use categories or subcategories, develop new use 
categories or subcategories, or adopt another use which may include a 
location-specific use.
* * * * *
    (j) A State must conduct a use attainability analysis as described 
in Sec.  131.3(g), and Sec.  131.10(g), whenever:
    (1) The State designates or has designated uses for a water body 
for the first time that do not include the uses specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the Act, or
    (2) The State wishes to remove a designated use that is specified 
in section 101(a)(2) of the Act, to remove a sub-category of such a 
use, or to designate a sub-category of such a use which requires 
criteria less stringent than previously applicable.
    (k) A State is not required to conduct a use attainability analysis 
whenever:
    (1) The State designates or has designated uses for a water body 
for the first time that include the uses specified in section 101(a)(2) 
of the Act, or
    (2) The State wishes to remove a designated use that is not 
specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act, or designate a sub-category 
of a use specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act which requires 
criteria at least as stringent as previously applicable.
0
6. Amend Sec.  131.11 by revising paragraphs (a)(2) and (b) 
introductory text to read as follows:


Sec.  131.11  Criteria.

    (a) * * *
    (2)Toxic Pollutants. States must review water quality data and 
information on discharges to identify specific water bodies where toxic 
pollutants may be adversely affecting water quality or the attainment 
of the designated water use or where the levels of toxic pollutants are 
at a level to warrant concern and must adopt criteria for such toxic 
pollutants applicable to the water body sufficient to protect the 
designated use. Where a State adopts narrative criteria for toxic 
pollutants to protect designated uses, the State must provide 
information identifying the method by which the State intends to 
regulate point source discharges of toxic pollutants on water quality 
limited segments based on such narrative criteria. Such information may 
be included as part of the standards or may be included in documents 
generated by the State in response to the Water Quality Planning and 
Management Regulations (40 CFR part 130).
    (b) Form of criteria: In establishing criteria, States should:
* * * * *
0
7. Amend Sec.  131.12 by revising the section heading and paragraphs 
(a) introductory text and (a)(2), and adding paragraph (b) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  131.12  Antidegradation Policy and Implementation Methods.

    (a) The State shall develop and adopt a statewide antidegradation 
policy. The antidegradation policy shall, at a minimum, be consistent 
with the following:
* * * * *
    (2) Where the quality of the waters exceed levels necessary to 
support the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife 
and recreation in and on the water, that quality shall be maintained 
and protected unless the State finds, after full satisfaction of the 
intergovernmental coordination and public participation provisions of 
the State's continuing planning process, that allowing lower water 
quality is necessary to accommodate important economic or social 
development in the area in which the waters are located. In allowing 
such degradation or lower water quality, the State shall ensure water 
quality adequate to protect existing uses fully. Further, the state 
shall ensure that there shall be achieved the highest statutory and 
regulatory requirements for all new and existing point sources and all 
cost-effective and reasonable best management practices for nonpoint 
source control.
* * * * *
    (b) The State shall develop and make available to the public 
statewide methods for implementing the antidegradation policy adopted 
pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section. A State's antidegradation 
implementation methods shall be designed to achieve antidegradation 
protection consistent with paragraph (a) of this section. Such methods 
must ensure that:
    (1) High quality waters are identified on a parameter-by-parameter 
basis or on a water body-by-water body basis at the State's discretion, 
but must not exclude any water body from high quality water protection 
solely because not all of the uses specified in CWA section 101(a)(2) 
are attained; and
    (2) The State will only make a finding that lowering high water 
quality is necessary, pursuant to paragraph (a)(2) of this section, 
after conducting an alternatives analysis that evaluates a range of 
non-degrading and minimally degrading practicable alternatives that 
have the potential to prevent or minimize the degradation associated 
with the proposed activity. If the State can identify any-practicable 
alternatives, the State must choose one of those alternatives to 
implement when authorizing a lowering of high water quality.
0
8. Add Sec.  131.14 to subpart B to read as follows:


Sec.  131.14  Water quality standards variances.

    States may, at their discretion, grant variances subject to the 
provisions of this section and public participation requirements at 
Sec.  131.20(b). A water quality standards variance (WQS

[[Page 54545]]

variance) is a time-limited designated use and criterion for a 
specified pollutant(s), permittee(s), and/or water body or waterbody 
segment(s) that reflect the highest attainable condition during the 
specified time period. WQS variances are water quality standards 
subject to EPA review and approval or disapproval and must be 
consistent with this section. Any such WQS variances adopted after 
[effective date of the final rule] must be consistent with this 
regulatory section.
    (a) Applicability:
    (1) All applicable WQS not specifically addressed by the WQS 
variance remain applicable.
    (2)(i) Where a state adopts a WQS variance, the State regulations 
must continue to reflect the underlying designated use and criterion 
unless the State adopts and EPA approves a revision to the underlying 
designated use and criterion consistent with Sec.  131.10 or Sec.  
131.11.
    (ii) The interim requirements specified in the WQS variance are in 
effect during the term of the WQS variance and apply for CWA section 
402 permitting purposes and in issuing certifications under section 401 
of the Act for the permittee(s), pollutant(s), and/or water body or 
waterbody segment(s) covered by the WQS variance. For these limited 
purposes, the interim requirements will be the standards applicable for 
purposes of the CWA under 40 CFR 131.21(c)-(e).
    (3) A WQS variance shall not be granted if the designated use and 
criterion addressed by the proposed WQS variance can be achieved by 
implementing technology-based effluent limits required under sections 
301(b) and 306 of the Act.
    (b) Submission Requirements:
    (1) A WQS variance must specify the following:
    (i) Identifying information: A WQS variance must identify the 
pollutant(s), permittee(s), and/or the water body or waterbody 
segment(s) to which the WQS variance applies.
    (ii) WQS that apply during a variance for CWA section 402 
permitting purposes and in issuing certifications under section 401 of 
the Act: A WQS variance must specify:
    (A) The highest attainable interim use and interim numeric 
criterion, or
    (B) An interim numeric effluent condition that reflects the highest 
attainable condition for a specific permittee(s) during the term of the 
variance. Neither (A) nor (B) of this paragraph shall result in any 
lowering of the currently attained water quality unless a time-limited 
lowering of water quality is necessary during the term of a variance 
for restoration activities, consistent with paragraph (b)(2)(ii) of 
this section.
    (iii) Date the WQS variance will expire: States must include an 
expiration date for all WQS variances, consistent with paragraph (b)(2) 
of this section. WQS variances must be as short as possible but expire 
no later than 10 years after state adoption.
    (2) The State must submit a demonstration justifying the need for a 
WQS variance. For a WQS variance to a use specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the Act or a sub-category of such a use, the State must 
submit a demonstration that attaining the designated use and criterion 
is not feasible during the term of the WQS variance because:
    (i) One of the factors listed in Sec.  131.10(g) applies, or
    (ii) Actions necessary to facilitate restoration through dam 
removal or other significant wetland or stream reconfiguration 
activities preclude attainment of the designated use and criterion 
while the actions are being implemented.
    (3) For a waterbody variance, the state must identify and document 
any cost-effective and reasonable best management practices for 
nonpoint source controls related to the pollutant(s) and location(s) 
specified in the WQS variance that could be implemented to make 
progress towards attaining the designated use and criterion. A State 
must provide public notice and comment for any such documentation.
    (c) Implementing variances in NPDES permits: Consistent with 
paragraph (a)(2)(ii) of this section, a WQS variance serves as the 
basis of a water quality-based effluent limit included in a NPDES 
permit for the period the variance is in effect. Any limitations 
required to implement the WQS variance shall be included as conditions 
of the NPDES permit for the permittee(s) subject to the WQS variance.
    (d) WQS variance renewals: EPA may approve a WQS variance renewal 
if the State meets the requirements of this section and provides 
documentation of the actions taken to meet the requirements of the 
previous WQS variance. For a waterbody WQS variance renewal, the state 
must also provide documentation of whether and to what extent BMPs have 
been implemented to address the pollutant(s) subject to the WQS 
variance and the water quality progress achieved during the WQS 
variance period. Renewal of a WQS variance may be disapproved if the 
applicant did not comply with the conditions of the original WQS 
variance, or otherwise does not meet the requirements of this section.
0
9. Add Sec.  131.15 to subpart B to read as follows:


Sec.  131.15  Compliance schedule authorizing provisions.

    A State may, at its discretion and consistent with state law, 
authorize schedules of compliance for water quality-based effluent 
limits (WQBELs) in NPDES permits by including a compliance schedule 
authorizing provision in its water quality standards or implementing 
regulations. Any such provision is a water quality standard subject to 
EPA review and approval and must be consistent with sections 502(17) 
and 301(b)(1)(C) of the Act. Individual compliance schedules issued 
pursuant to such authorizing provisions are not themselves water 
quality standards. Individual compliance schedules must be consistent 
with CWA section 502(17), the state's EPA-approved compliance schedule 
authorizing provision, and the requirements of Sec. Sec.  122.2 and 
122.47.

Subpart C--Procedures for Review and Revision of Water Quality 
Standards

0
10. Amend Sec.  131.20 by revising paragraphs (a) and (b) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  131.20  State review and revision of water quality standards.

    (a) State Review. The State shall from time to time, but at least 
once every 3 years, hold public hearings for the purpose of reviewing 
applicable water quality standards and, as appropriate, modifying and 
adopting standards; in particular, any water body segment with water 
quality standards that do not include the uses specified in section 
101(a)(2) of the Act shall be re-examined every 3 years to determine if 
any new information has become available. If such new information 
indicates that the uses specified in section 101(a)(2) of the Act are 
attainable, the State shall revise its standards accordingly. 
Similarly, a State shall re-examine its water quality criteria to 
determine if any criteria should be revised in light of any new or 
updated CWA section 304(a) criteria recommendations to assure that 
designated uses continue to be protected. Procedures States establish 
for identifying and reviewing water bodies for review should be 
incorporated into their Continuing Planning Process.
    (b) Public Participation. The State shall hold public hearings for 
the purpose of reviewing or revising water quality standards, in 
accordance with provisions of State law and EPA's public participation 
regulation (40 CFR part 25). The proposed water quality

[[Page 54546]]

standards revision and supporting analyses shall be made available to 
the public prior to the hearing.
* * * * *
0
11. Amend Sec.  131.22 by revising paragraph (b) to read as follows:


Sec.  131.22  EPA promulgation of water quality standards.

* * * * *
    (b) The Administrator may also propose and promulgate a regulation, 
applicable to one or more States, setting forth a new or revised 
standard upon determining such a standard is necessary to meet the 
requirements of the Act. To constitute an Administrator's 
determination, such determination must:
    (1) Be signed by the Administrator or his or her duly authorized 
delegate, and
    (2) Contain a statement that the document constitutes an 
Administrator's determination under section 303(c)(4)(B) of the Act.
* * * * *

Subpart D--Federally Promulgated Water Quality Standards

0
12. Amend Sec.  131.34 by revising paragraph (c) to read as follows:


Sec.  131.34  Kansas.

* * * * *
    (c) Water quality standard variances. The Regional Administrator, 
EPA Region 7, is authorized to grant variances from the water quality 
standards in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section where the 
requirements of Sec.  131.14 are met.
0
13. Amend Sec.  131.40 by revising paragraph (c) to read as follows:


Sec.  131.40  Puerto Rico.

* * * * *
    (c) Water quality standard variances. The Regional Administrator, 
EPA Region 2, is authorized to grant variances from the water quality 
standards in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section where the 
requirements of Sec.  131.14 are met.

[FR Doc. 2013-21140 Filed 9-3-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6560-50-P