Member Pipeline - Clean Water Current - March 2, 2007
March 2, 2007
NACWA Advocacy Continues Despite Funding Cut for SRF Reauthorization Bills
Funding in a bill reauthorizing the clean water state revolving fund (CWSRF) was reduced from $20 billion over five years to $14 billion over four years by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a markup this week. The committee agreed to the reduction after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the original authorization of $20 billion for the CWSRF in the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 (H.R. 720) would reduce revenues to the U.S. Treasury because states would issue more tax-exempt bonds to pay for capital projects. This determination triggered the “PAYGO” rules of the House, which state that any reduction to the Treasury must be paid for by an increase in taxes or fees or a cut in funds somewhere else. Oddly, PAYGO rules do not typically apply to authorization bills, only to appropriations bills. Some have suggested that Congress’ efforts to apply PAYGO at the authorization stage bodes well for following up the legislation with real dollars. While NACWA has worked hard to facilitate the movement of these bills, the Association continues to maintain that they only represent a first step toward closing the $300-$500 billion infrastructure funding gap and that a sustainable federal financial commitment is the only sound solution to this impending crisis.
NACWA has been working with its partners in the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) to generate support for the bill, which is expected to go to the House floor next week. WIN is taking out an ad (http://www.nacwa.org/getfile.cfm?fn=2007-rcadd.pdf) in the Capital Hill newspaper, Roll Call, next Tuesday urging members of Congress to support both H.R. 720 and H.R. 569, the Water Quality Investment Act of 2007, which would authorize about $1.8 billion in wet weather grants. NACWA and its WIN partners urge members to continue to contact their members of Congress to ask them to vote in favor of these two bills. Prior to the vote next week, NACWA and WIN plan to hold a press conference explaining the importance of these bills to the clean water community. This event along with the Roll Call ad will also alert the Senate to the need for similar action. NACWA will be meeting with key Senate staff in the coming weeks to hammer out legislative proposals similar to the two under consideration by the House.
NACWA Criticizes EPA’s Latest Enforcement Priorities Targeting Wet Weather Issues
NACWA submitted comments (http://www.nacwa.org/getfile.cfm?fn=2007-02-28epaltr.pdf) this week criticizing EPA’s proposed plan to once again target combined and sanitary sewer overflows (CSOs and SSOs) and stormwater discharges as enforcement priorities. The efforts come as part of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) triennial priority setting process. NACWA pointed out in the Feb. 28 comments that the Agency’s insistence on targeting municipal wet weather flows for more aggressive enforcement is actually hindering efforts to improve water quality. For example, EPA’s focus on eliminating all SSOs has forced many municipalities to spend disproportionate amounts of money chasing a technically unachievable goal while neglecting more environmentally beneficial projects. While EPA enforcement officials have explored using watershed needs as a means of prioritizing spending in the context of a few consent decrees, the vast majority of enforcement actions require municipalities to eliminate all SSOs, regardless of their impact relative to other sources of pollutants in the watershed. NACWA is currently working on several efforts to enable municipalities to take a more integrated and balanced approach to making further water quality improvements, which will be detailed in an upcoming Alert and Update.
NACWA Comments Detail Concerns with Proposed Permit Fee Rule
NACWA submitted comments (http://www.nacwa.org/getfile.cfm?fn=2007-03-02cmts.pdf) March 2 opposing EPA’s proposed rule on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit fees. The comments said “the policy basis for the proposal….is flawed” and urged the Agency to reconsider the plan. The rule, proposed by EPA in early January, would encourage states to fund 75-100 percent of their NPDES programs through user fees from permit applicants. States meeting this funding goal would be eligible for more Clean Water Act Section 106 grants.
NACWA members reviewed the proposal and submitted their thoughts to the Association, which used them to develop the March 2 comments opposing the plan. Specifically, NACWA outlined concerns about the potential financial impacts and EPA’s justification for the rule and the ultimate intent behind the proposal. NACWA stressed that the NPDES program does not benefit only the permit holders, but rather the community at large, making it inappropriate to justify the new fee proposal as a way to make permit holders pay more of the costs. The comments also express concern that the proposal could lead to future cuts in the Section 106 grants. NACWA will continue to track this issue and is also working with congressional staff on potential legislative fixes to block EPA from implementing the rule.
Supreme Court Declines to Review Interbasin Water Transfer Case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Feb. 26 that it will not review an appeals court decision, City of New York v. Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, dealing with interbasin water transfers. NACWA filed a brief Jan. 26, supporting a request by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), a member agency, for review of the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit held that NYCDEP must obtain a NPDES permit for transfers of natural, untreated water between two of its reservoirs. A copy of the brief, as well as more information on the case can be found at http://www.nacwa.org/private/littrack/#20. The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case puts an even greater onus on EPA to clarify the appropriateness of NPDES permits for water transfers in its forthcoming water transfer rule. NACWA will continue to work with NYCDEP and other members on this issue and will update members when EPA’s transfer rule is released.
NACWA/WEF National Policy Forum Agenda and Registration Now Available Online
The preliminary agenda and online registration are now available on NACWA’s Conferences and Meetings webpage (http://www.nacwa.org/meetings/07may/) for the joint NACWA/Water Environment Federation (WEF) National Clean Water Policy Forum, May 6-9, at the Renaissance Washington Hotel in Washington, D.C. With invited speakers and guests including EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the Policy Forum will provide unparalleled insight into national policymakers’ perspectives on environmental issues that will affect the entire nation, from clean water infrastructure funding, climate change, and sewer overflow control to farming and nonpoint source concerns. In addition to new leadership in Congress, the Clean Water Act turns 35 this year, offering an excellent opportunity to examine whether the current law can meet 21st century challenges and how the 110th Congress can help chart a new path on water quality issues.
NACWA also urges utility leaders to join us at the Policy Forum and to take part in the first Clean Water Utility Executives Summit. This Summit, scheduled for the afternoon of May 7, will bring together utility executives from across the country to engage in a provocative, facilitated dialogue on the past, present, and future of the clean water community specifically, and water sector organizations as a whole. Again, agenda and registration information is now available on NACWA’s website (http://www.nacwa.org/meetings/07may/), so register today!