Member Pipeline - Clean Water Current - February 9, 2007
February 9, 2007
NACWA Urges Members to Contact Congress in Support of Key Funding Bills
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee favorably reported two bills of interest to NACWA members this week. The Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 (H.R. 720), which would reauthorize the clean water state revolving fund (CWSRF) at $20 billion over five years, was approved in a bipartisan 55-13 vote after an extensive debate on the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage provisions, which remain in the bill. Also, the Water Quality Investment Act of 2007 (H.R. 569), which would authorize $1.8 billion in grants for combined and sanitary sewer overflow control projects over six years, was unanimously approved.
NACWA has been working with the committee on the bills, including testifying at a Jan. 19 hearing, and successfully promoted the inclusion of language in H.R. 720 calling for a study of potential funding mechanisms for a clean water trust fund. NACWA has also advocated on behalf of the legislation through numerous press releases (http://www.nacwa.org/advocacy/releases.cfm#nr) sent out as the work on the bills progressed. A list of articles quoting NACWA is available on the Newsroom website (http://www.nacwa.org/advocacy/news.cfm). Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the committee, said he hopes to get the bills to the House floor by Friday, Feb. 16. As such, NACWA urges members to call or email their Representatives and ask them to support both bills. On Monday, NACWA will send out additional information and key points members can use in their correspondence to their Representatives.
Administration’s Budget for EPA Slashes SRF Funding, Proposes Private Financing Plan
The $7.2 billion fiscal year 2008 budget proposal (http://www.epa.gov/ocfo/budget/index.htm) for EPA, released Feb. 5, once again cuts funding for the CWSRF down to $687.5 million. The funding levels generally track the fiscal year 2007 request, but Congress never finalized a funding bill for the Agency, which is operating on a long-term continuing resolution. EPA’s FY 2006 budget, however, contained $887 million for the CWSRF, nearly $500 million less than the historic level of $1.35 billion last seen in FY 2004. In addition to the $687.5 million for the SRF, the FY 2008 request also seeks $221 million for Clean Water Act Section 106 and $194 million for the Section 319 nonpoint source pollution program.
The EPA budget request also includes provisions to seek a legislative change in the tax code that would allow the state cap on private activity bonds (PABs) to be lifted with the goal of spurring private investment in clean water infrastructure. While NACWA believes clean water agencies should have a range of options to finance their infrastructure needs, PABs should not be considered a substitute for a genuine federal commitment to the nation’s clean water infrastructure. Past efforts to privatize public utilities did not have positive results or resolve infrastructure concerns. Moreover, NACWA believes that financial returns on investments in the water sector can take decades, making PABs a less attractive option and not one clean water agencies can bank on to meet their infrastructure funding needs.
NACWA Continues Advocacy on Permit Fee Rule; Member Comments Due Next Week
NACWA participated in a Feb. 8 conference call with EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) to discuss the Agency’s permit fee proposal. LGAC is made up of local and state government officials, environmental activist groups, and labor unions that advise the Agency on issues of importance to local governments. The proposed rule, released in January, would set aside up to $5.1 million of future Clean Water Act Section 106 funds — assuming they are increased above fiscal year 2006 levels — in an “incentive pool” to be distributed to those states that fund at least 75 percent of their NPDES program through user fees.
EPA wants to encourage more states to fund the costs of their NPDES programs through user fees and indicated on the conference call that the rule seeks to shift more of the cost of the program to those entities that benefit from it, naming public treatment plants and industry as primary beneficiaries. However, several participants on the call questioned this reasoning and suggested that the general public ultimately benefits from the program and not the regulated parties. Participants on the call also questioned whether the amount in the incentive pool is sufficient to achieve the rule’s aim and whether the rule might prompt future cuts in Section 106 funding.
NACWA members should submit their comments on the proposal to the National Office by Feb. 16. They will be used to craft oral testimony NACWA expects to present on Feb. 21 at an EPA public meeting on the proposal, as well as to formulate written comments to submit to EPA by March 5. A copy of the proposed rule as well as a more detailed summary can be found in NACWA’s Regulatory Alert 07-01 (http://www.nacwa.org/private/regalerts/ra07-01.cfm). Comments and questions on the proposal should be directed to Nathan Gardner-Andrews at email@example.com.
NACWA Participates in Pandemic Flu Briefing; POTW Workers Get Priority for Vaccine
NACWA attended a briefing on Feb. 8 on the U.S. government’s influenza pandemic mitigation strategy, detailed in a Feb. 1 report, Interim Pre-pandemic Planning Guidance: Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the United States – Early, Targeted, Layered Use of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/community/mitigation.html), issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This briefing took on added significance amid reports of an avian flu outbreak reported last week in Great Britain. Although slightly more than 200 human deaths traced to bird flu have been reported worldwide, no evidence suggests the H5N1 virus has mutated to a form that can be spread among humans.
In a related matter, an earlier report (http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/niac/niac-pandemic-wg_v8-011707.pdf) by the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) categorized 608,000 water and wastewater treatment employees as Tier 1 critical employees and recommended to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that they be given priority for vaccinations in the event of an influenza pandemic. Although a vaccine is the most effective method for containing an influenza pandemic, it is not likely to be immediately available for a particular influenza virus or in sufficient quantities. Therefore, other non-pharmaceutical interventions will be required to control an outbreak. CDC ranked “social distancing,” or minimizing contact between people, as the best intervention method. To accomplish this, schools and daycare centers will be closed for four to 12 weeks, requiring many working parents to stay at home with their children. Businesses should plan for high rates of absenteeism resulting from school closures and employee illness. Additional planning guidance for businesses is contained in a Feb. 6 report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic (http://www.osha.gov/Publications/influenza_pandemic.html). The CDC and OSHA reports should help POTWs plan for an influenza outbreak, and NACWA will inform members about other planning tools and government strategies for dealing with a potential influenza pandemic. These web links will be made available under the Security icon on NACWA’s homepage in the near future.