U.S. Code of Federal Regulations

Regulations most recently checked for updates: Jul 14, 2024

§ 121.1 - Definitions.

As used in this part, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:

(a) Administrator means the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

(b) Certifying authority means the entity responsible for certifying compliance with applicable water quality requirements in accordance with Clean Water Act section 401.

(c) Federal agency means any agency of the Federal Government to which application is made for a Federal license or permit that is subject to Clean Water Act section 401.

(d) Federal Indian Reservation, Indian reservation, or reservation means all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and including rights-of-way running through the reservation.

(e) Indian Tribe or Tribe means any Indian Tribe, band, group, or community recognized by the Secretary of the Interior and exercising governmental authority over a Federal Indian Reservation.

(f) License or permit means any license or permit issued or granted by an agency of the Federal Government to conduct any activity which may result in any discharge into waters of the United States.

(g) Neighboring jurisdiction means any state, or Tribe with treatment in a similar manner as a state for Clean Water Act section 401 in its entirety or only for Clean Water Act section 401(a)(2), other than the jurisdiction in which the discharge originates or will originate.

(h) Project proponent means the applicant for a Federal license or permit, or the entity seeking certification.

(i) Regional Administrator means the Regional designee appointed by the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency.

(j) Water quality requirements means any limitation, standard, or other requirement under sections 301, 302, 303, 306, and 307 of the Clean Water Act, any Federal and state or Tribal laws or regulations implementing those sections, and any other water quality-related requirement of state or Tribal law.

§ 121.2 - When certification is required.

Certification or waiver is required for any Federal license or permit that authorizes any activity which may result in any discharge from a point source into waters of the United States.

§ 121.3 - Scope of certification.

(a) When a certifying authority reviews a request for certification, the certifying authority shall evaluate whether the activity will comply with applicable water quality requirements. The certifying authority's evaluation is limited to the water quality-related impacts from the activity subject to the Federal license or permit, including the activity's construction and operation.

(b) Consistent with the scope of review identified in paragraph (a) of this section, a certifying authority shall include any conditions in a grant of certification necessary to assure that the activity will comply with applicable water quality requirements.

§ 121.4 - Pre-filing meeting requests.

The project proponent shall request a pre-filing meeting with the certifying authority at least 30 days prior to submitting a request for certification in accordance with the certifying authority's applicable submission procedures, unless the certifying authority waives or shortens the requirement for a pre-filing meeting request.

§ 121.5 - Request for certification.

(a) Where a project proponent is seeking certification from any certifying authority, the request for certification shall include the following minimum contents:

(1) If the request for certification is for an individual Federal license or permit, it shall be in writing, signed, and dated and shall include the following:

(i) A copy of the Federal license or permit application submitted to the Federal agency; and

(ii) Any readily available water quality-related materials that informed the development of the application.

(2) If the request for certification is for the issuance of a general Federal license or permit, it shall be in writing, signed, and dated and shall include the following:

(i) A copy of the draft Federal license or permit; and

(ii) Any readily available water quality-related materials that informed the development of the draft Federal license or permit.

(b) Where a project proponent is seeking certification from the Regional Administrator, if not already included in the request for certification in accordance with paragraph (a) of this section, a request for certification shall also include the following, as applicable:

(1) A description of the proposed activity, including the purpose of the proposed activity and the type(s) of discharge(s) that may result from the proposed activity;

(2) The specific location of any discharge(s) that may result from the proposed activity;

(3) A map or diagram of the proposed activity site, including the proposed activity boundaries in relation to local streets, roads, and highways;

(4) A description of current activity site conditions, including but not limited to relevant site data, photographs that represent current site conditions, or other relevant documentation;

(5) The date(s) on which the proposed activity is planned to begin and end and, if known, the approximate date(s) when any discharge(s) may commence;

(6) A list of all other Federal, interstate, Tribal, state, territorial, or local agency authorizations required for the proposed activity and the current status of each authorization; and

(7) Documentation that a pre-filing meeting request was submitted to the certifying authority in accordance with applicable submission procedures, unless the pre-filing meeting request requirement was waived.

(c) Where a project proponent is seeking certification from a certifying authority other than the Regional Administrator, and that certifying authority has identified contents of a request for certification in addition to those identified in paragraph (a) of this section that are relevant to the water quality-related impacts from the activity, the project proponent shall include in the request for certification those additional contents identified prior to when the request for certification is made.

(d) Where a project proponent is seeking certification from a certifying authority other than the Regional Administrator, and that certifying authority has not identified contents of a request for certification in addition to those identified in paragraph (a) of this section that are relevant to the water quality-related impacts from the activity, the project proponent shall include in the request for certification those additional contents identified in paragraph (b) of this section.

§ 121.6 - Reasonable period of time.

(a) The reasonable period of time begins on the date that the certifying authority receives a request for certification, as defined in § 121.5, in accordance with the certifying authority's applicable submission procedures. The certifying authority shall send written confirmation to the project proponent and Federal agency of the date that the request for certification was received.

(b) The Federal agency and the certifying authority may jointly agree in writing to the reasonable period of time for the certifying authority to act on the request for certification, provided the reasonable period of time does not exceed one year from the date that the request for certification was received. Such written agreements may establish categorical reasonable periods of time.

(c) If the Federal agency and the certifying authority do not agree in writing on the length of the reasonable period of time, the reasonable period of time shall be six months.

(d) If a longer period of time is necessary to accommodate the certifying authority's public notice procedures or force majeure events (including, but not limited to, government closure or natural disasters), upon written notification by the certifying authority to the Federal agency prior to the end of the reasonable period of time, the reasonable period of time shall be extended by the period of time necessitated by public notice procedures or the force majeure event. In such written notification to the Federal agency, the certifying authority shall identify how much additional time is required and provide a justification for such extension. Such an extension shall not cause the reasonable period of time to exceed one year from the date that the request for certification was received.

(e) The Federal agency and certifying authority may agree in writing to extend the reasonable period of time for any reason, provided that the extension shall not cause the reasonable period of time to exceed one year from the date that the request for certification was received.

§ 121.7 - Certification decisions.

(a) A certifying authority may act on a request for certification in one of four ways: grant certification, grant certification with conditions, deny certification, or expressly waive certification.

(b) A certifying authority shall act on a request for certification within the scope of certification and within the reasonable period of time.

(c) A grant of certification shall be in writing and should include the following:

(1) Identification of the decision as a grant of certification;

(2) Identification of the applicable Federal license or permit;

(3) A statement that the activity will comply with water quality requirements; and

(4) An indication that the certifying authority complied with its public notice procedures established pursuant to Clean Water Act section 401(a)(1).

(d) A grant of certification with conditions shall be in writing and should include the following:

(1) Identification of the decision as a grant of certification with conditions;

(2) Identification of the applicable Federal license or permit;

(3) A statement explaining why each of the included conditions is necessary to assure that the activity will comply with water quality requirements; and

(4) An indication that the certifying authority complied with its public notice procedures established pursuant to Clean Water Act section 401(a)(1).

(e) A denial of certification shall be in writing and should include the following:

(1) Identification of the decision as a denial of certification;

(2) Identification of the applicable Federal license or permit;

(3) A statement explaining why the certifying authority cannot certify that the activity will comply with water quality requirements, including but not limited to a description of any missing water quality-related information if the denial is based on insufficient information; and

(4) An indication that the certifying authority complied with its public notice procedures established pursuant to Clean Water Act section 401(a)(1).

(f) An express waiver shall be in writing and should include the following:

(1) Identification of the decision as an express waiver of certification;

(2) Identification of the applicable Federal license or permit;

(3) A statement that the certifying authority expressly waives its authority to act on the request for certification; and

(4) An indication that the certifying authority complied with its public notice procedures established pursuant to Clean Water Act section 401(a)(1).

(g) If the certifying authority determines that no water quality requirements are applicable to the activity, the certifying authority shall grant certification.

§ 121.8 - Extent of Federal agency review.

To the extent a Federal agency verifies compliance with the requirements of Clean Water Act section 401, its review is limited to whether: the appropriate certifying authority issued the certification decision; the certifying authority confirmed it complied with its public notice procedures established pursuant to Clean Water Act section 401(a)(1); and the certifying authority acted on the request for certification within the reasonable period of time.

§ 121.9 - Failure or refusal to act.

(a) The certification requirement shall be waived only if a certifying authority fails or refuses to act on a request for certification within the reasonable period of time.

(b) If the Federal agency determines that the certifying authority did not act on a request for certification within the reasonable period of time, the Federal agency shall promptly notify the certifying authority and project proponent in writing that the certification requirement has been waived in accordance with § 121.8. Such notice shall satisfy the project proponent's requirement to obtain certification.

§ 121.10 - Modification to a grant of certification.

(a) Provided that the Federal agency and the certifying authority agree in writing that the certifying authority may modify a grant of certification (with or without conditions), the certifying authority may modify only the agreed-upon portions of the certification. The certifying authority is not required to obtain the Federal agency's agreement on the language of the modification.

(b) The certifying authority shall not, through a modification pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section:

(1) Revoke a grant of certification (with or without conditions); or

(2) Change a grant of certification (with or without conditions) into a denial or waiver of certification.

§ 121.11 - Requirements for Indian Tribes to administer a water quality certification program.

(a) The Regional Administrator may accept and approve a Tribal application for purposes of administering a water quality certification program if the Tribe meets the following criteria:

(1) The Indian Tribe is recognized by the Secretary of the Interior and meets the definitions in § 121.1(d) and (e);

(2) The Indian Tribe has a governing body carrying out substantial governmental duties and powers;

(3) The water quality certification program to be administered by the Indian Tribe pertains to the management and protection of water resources that are within the borders of the Indian reservation and held by the Indian Tribe, within the borders of the Indian reservation and held by the United States in trust for Indians, within the borders of the Indian reservation and held by a member of the Indian Tribe if such property interest is subject to a trust restriction on alienation, or otherwise within the borders of the Indian reservation; and

(4) The Indian Tribe is reasonably expected to be capable, in the Regional Administrator's judgment, of carrying out the functions of an effective water quality certification program in a manner consistent with the terms and purposes of the Clean Water Act and applicable regulations in this chapter.

(b) Requests by an Indian Tribe for administration of a water quality certification program should be submitted to the appropriate EPA Regional Administrator. The application shall include the following information, provided that where the Tribe has previously qualified for eligibility or “treatment as a state” under another EPA-administered program, the Tribe need only provide the required information that has not been submitted in a previous application:

(1) A statement that the Tribe is recognized by the Secretary of the Interior.

(2) A descriptive statement demonstrating that the Tribal governing body is currently carrying out substantial governmental duties and powers over a defined area. The statement should:

(i) Describe the form of Tribal government;

(ii) Describe the types of governmental functions currently performed by the Tribal governing body such as, but not limited to, the exercise of police powers affecting (or relating to) the health, safety, and welfare of the affected population, taxation, and the exercise of the power of eminent domain; and

(iii) Identify the source of the Tribal government's authority to carry out the governmental functions currently being performed.

(3) A descriptive statement of the Tribe's authority to regulate water quality. The statement should include:

(i) A map or legal description of the area over which the Tribe asserts authority to regulate surface water quality; and

(ii) A statement by the Tribe's legal counsel or equivalent official that describes the basis for the Tribe's assertion of authority and may include copies of documents such as Tribal constitutions, by-laws, charters, executive orders, codes, ordinances, and/or resolutions that support the Tribe's assertion of authority.

(4) A narrative statement describing the capability of the Indian Tribe to administer an effective water quality certification program. The narrative statement should include:

(i) A description of the Indian Tribe's previous management experience that may include the administration of programs and services authorized by the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450, et seq.), the Indian Mineral Development Act (25 U.S.C. 2101, et seq.), or the Indian Sanitation Facility Construction Activity Act (42 U.S.C. 2004a);

(ii) A list of existing environmental or public health programs administered by the Tribal governing body and copies of related Tribal laws, policies, and regulations;

(iii) A description of the entity (or entities) which exercise the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of the Tribal government;

(iv) A description of the existing, or proposed, agency of the Indian Tribe which will assume primary responsibility for establishing and implementing a water quality certification program; and

(v) A description of the technical and administrative capabilities of the staff to administer and manage an effective water quality certification program or a plan which proposes how the Tribe will acquire additional administrative and technical expertise. The plan must address how the Tribe will obtain the funds to acquire the administrative and technical expertise.

(5) Additional documentation required by the Regional Administrator which, in the judgment of the Regional Administrator, is necessary to support a Tribal application.

(c) The procedure for processing a Tribe's application is as follows:

(1) The Regional Administrator shall process an application of an Indian Tribe submitted pursuant to paragraph (b) of this section in a timely manner. The Regional Administrator shall promptly notify the Indian Tribe of receipt of the application.

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (c)(4) of this section, within 30 days after receipt of the Tribe's application, the Regional Administrator shall provide appropriate notice. The notice shall:

(i) Include information on the substance and basis of the Tribe's assertion of authority to regulate the quality of reservation waters;

(ii) Be provided to all appropriate governmental entities; and

(iii) Provide 30 days for comments to be submitted on the Tribal application. Comments shall be limited to the Tribe's assertion of authority.

(3) If a Tribe's asserted authority is subject to a competing or conflicting claim, the Regional Administrator, after due consideration, and in consideration of other comments received, shall determine whether the Tribe has adequately demonstrated that it meets the requirements of paragraph (a)(3) of this section.

(4) Where, after November 27, 2023, EPA has determined that a Tribe qualifies for treatment in a similar manner as a state for the Clean Water Act section 303(c) Water Quality Standards Program, Clean Water Act section 303(d) Impaired Water Listing and Total Maximum Daily Loads Program, Clean Water Act section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program, or Clean Water Act section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit Program, and has provided notice and an opportunity to comment on the Tribe's assertion of authority to appropriate governmental entities as part of its review of the Tribe's prior application, no further notice to governmental entities, as described in paragraph (c)(2) of this section, shall be provided with regard to the same Tribe's application for the water quality certification program, unless the application presents to the EPA Regional Administrator different jurisdictional issues or significant new factual or legal information relevant to jurisdiction.

(5) Where the Regional Administrator determines that a Tribe meets the requirements of this section, they shall promptly provide written notification to the Indian Tribe that the Tribe is authorized to administer the water quality certification program.

(d) An Indian Tribe may submit a Tribal application for purposes of administering only the Clean Water Act section 401(a)(2) portion of a water quality certification program.