Member Pipeline - Clean Water Current - June 29, 2007
June 22, 2007
FY 2008 Budget Bills Contain Key Provisions for Clean Water Agencies
The House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment & Related Agencies have approved their fiscal year (FY) 2008 EPA budget packages with the House bill (H.R. 2643) providing slightly more generous provisions on key clean water programs. Under the Senate bill (which has no bill number until it is approved by the full committee), EPA would receive $7.77 billion compared to the nearly $8.1 billion provided by House appropriators. The Senate version is only $48 million more than EPA received in FY 2007, while the House offers about $360 million more than current funding levels. Most of the increase in the House bill (click here) would go toward the clean water state revolving fund (CWSRF), providing $1.125 billion or $437.4 million above the President’s request and $41.18 million above the FY 2007 enacted level. The Senate would only provide $887 million for the CWSRF. NACWA expects the final sum to be about $1 billion.
Also, NACWA is optimistic that H.R. 2643, which includes a key provision that would block implementation of EPA’s proposed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit fee rule, will survive this process and be sent to the President for signature. The President, however, has threatened to veto the appropriations package in an effort to curb spending. NACWA will monitor this situation closely. Both budget bills were considered by the full House and Senate Committees this week, reportedly without major amendments. Details on their deliberations will be analyzed and reported to the membership next week.
NACWA Meets With EPA Administrator to Discuss Green Infrastructure
NACWA initiated and organized a high-level meeting June 22 with EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, Assistant Administrator Benjamin Grumbles, and other senior Agency staff to discuss progress on a national green infrastructure initiative. The meeting represented yet another step in maintaining the momentum behind the Statement of Intent for Green Infrastructure (click here) signed at an Earth Day celebration event by Administrator Johnson with NACWA, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Low Impact Development Center (LIDC), and the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators (ASIWPCA). Today’s meeting with Administrator Johnson, NACWA, NRDC, ASIWPCA, and LIDC focused on specific, concrete actions that EPA can take in the coming months and Fiscal Year 2008 to advance a green infrastructure agenda. Administrator Johnson praised NACWA’s leadership on green infrastructure issues and reported that he has appointed a senior advisor to assist him in promoting a green infrastructure program. He further stated that discussions on a broad agenda for “greening America” are progressing at the highest levels of EPA and at the White House. Assistant Administrator Grumbles also acknowledged NACWA’s efforts, and specifically mentioned the Association’s Summer Conference in Cleveland as an important effort to move green infrastructure forward.
Among the items discussed at the meeting was the need for EPA to capture the existing energy and enthusiasm for green infrastructure by implementing programs at the regional and local levels that will inspire the use of green technology. Participants in the meeting encouraged Agency staff to plan pilot projects in specific EPA regions that can act as models for future green infrastructure initiatives. EPA staff responded by saying that green infrastructure contacts are being identified in each EPA Region, with the hopes of initiating a series of pilot projects. Additionally, NACWA and others emphasized the importance of collaboration between the program offices at EPA and the enforcement side of the agency to ensure that there is appropriate regulatory and enforcement guidance for green infrastructure efforts. NACWA was informed by Agency staff that the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance (OECA) is moving quickly to make green infrastructure projects eligible for credit in enforcement actions. Additionally, EPA has unveiled a website (http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/greeninfrastructure.cfm) that is designed to provide additional information on green infrastructure initiatives. NACWA will continue to keep the membership updated on any developments involving this important effort.
NACWA, EPA Discuss Efforts to Update Financial Capability Guidance
NACWA and members of its Facility and Collection System (FACS) and Utility Management (UM) Committees discussed efforts to update EPA’s 1997 Combined Sewer Overflows — Guidance for Financial Capability Assessment and Schedule Development (guidance) with top Agency officials in a conference call this week. The main topics included NACWA’s targeted action fund (TAF) project to develop guiding principles and ideas for incorporating unique local conditions into the formula currently used to determine what a community can afford.
EPA officials, however, are hesitant to move anything on affordability to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), fearing it may get mired in the review process. OMB issued a policy statement in January indicating its intention to review significant guidance documents, which could include updates to guidance. As a result, EPA said it may take a while before a draft of the updated guidance will be available for review. NACWA expects that changes to the document will be largely cosmetic and based on conservative recommendations from the Environmental Financial Advisory Board (EFAB).
While NACWA welcomes these changes, the Association will continue to push for stronger reforms, including recognition that combined sewer overflows (CSOs), sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), and stormwater cannot be viewed in isolation, but, instead must be accounted for holistically to ensure all relevant costs are considered when assessing affordability. Significantly, EPA did not rule out strengthening portions of the draft document to highlight the importance of unique local conditions. NACWA meanwhile will pull together new information for its members that can be used to help negotiate stronger guidance from EPA on financial capability.
NACWA, WIN Meet with Key Senate Staff on Funding Legislation
NACWA, and other Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) organizations, met this week with high-level staff of the Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee. With the House having passed the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 (H.R. 720) — which would provide $14 billion to the CWSRF over four years and require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of feasible revenue sources for a clean water trust fund — at issue was the timing for the Senate to introduce similar legislation. The message to NACWA received was that it is the Senate’s objective to finish up a couple of other bills, including the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), with the goal of having a Senate funding bill introduced immediately before or after the August recess. There continue to be some contentious issues between the Majority and Minority, including Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wage concerns, but these have been worked out in Committee in the past on a bipartisan basis and the hope is that a similar understanding can be reached with this legislation. As the vote on H.R. 720 demonstrated, clean water funding is an issue that commands attention and can engender broad, bipartisan support. NACWA will keep members apprised of this important effort.
Chlorine Gas Issues the Focus of Workgroup Developing Security Metrics
During a June 19-20 meeting of the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC) Metrics Workgroup, Cynthia Dougherty, Director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, asked the Workgroup to consider developing a metric to evaluate the water sector’s consideration of chlorine gas safety. NACWA is part of the CIPAC Metrics Workgroup, which was chartered by the Water Sector Coordinating Council (WSCC) and Government Coordinating Council (GCC) to develop a national system for measuring the security progress of the water sector. The measurement system will rely on anonymous, voluntary reporting by drinking water and wastewater utilities.
EPA’s request for a chlorine gas metric stems from concerns that regulations may be forced onto the water sector, including potential requirements for conversion from chlorine gas to alternative disinfection methods, absent such a metric. The water sector is currently exempt from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards that took effect June 8, 2007. However, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff warned water sector utilities on June 12 regarding chlorine gas that:
"We [DHS] do not regulate it [chlorine gas]. . . . We may not at this point have the authority to regulate them [water and wastewater plants], but at a minimum we can set out, and we've communicated this, the kinds of standards that these wastewater and water treatment plants should put into effect to make sure that these dangerous chemicals they have on site are not stolen. Because again, unfortunately, if you look over to Iraq, you're going to see these kinds of chemicals wind up in improvised explosive devices.
And so I don't want – for those of you who are not subject to regulation, I don't want you to breathe a sigh of relief like we're off the hook. You're on the hook, because you're going to have to do this yourselves until the time comes along that regulatory authority to address these is given to us or to some other agency. . . . Wholly apart from regulation, the consequences could be severe, and I'm quite sure those of you who have lawyers, and you probably all do, can ask your lawyers to develop a very vivid picture of what life would be like if it turned out someone who was unregulated was nevertheless negligent with respect to securing these dangerous chemicals. Enough said."
With Chertoff’s comments in mind, the objective of a chlorine gas metric would be to show that utilities have evaluated the safety of chlorine gas use compared to alternative disinfection methods and have made their chlorine gas supplies secure if conversion to an alternative was not deemed feasible. In fact, more than 300 water and wastewater utilities currently using chlorine gas have already ordered the Chlorine Gas Decision Tool that was developed by NACWA to help utilities conduct such evaluations. The CD-based tool allows utilities to generate a quick, but accurate assessment of their disinfection alternatives. Available on NACWA’s website (click here), the tool and the information it generates may prove critical in demonstrating the industry’s ongoing commitment to explore alternatives.
The CIPAC Metrics Workgroup is considering the request from EPA and will formulate this and all other metrics by the end of September. NACWA will work to keep unnecessary regulation from being imposed on the water sector and will keep the membership informed of further developments on this issue.
Act by Tuesday, June 26 to Get Special Room Rate for NACWA Summer Conference!
There are only a few days left to get the special room rate at the Renaissance Cleveland for NACWA’s 2007 Summer Conference and 37th Annual Meeting, Sustainable Infrastructure Choices…Gray, Green, and Everything In Between, July 17-20, in Cleveland. Call the hotel at 1-800-468-3571 by Tuesday, June 26 and tell them you’re with NACWA to receive the special rate. Featured speakers for this conference include Bill Dee, President and CEO of Malcolm Pirnie, and Paul Freedman, President of Limno-Tech, Inc., who will examine how the engineering and scientific consulting businesses are facilitating the growing demand for green. EPA officials will explain the regulatory status of green infrastructure initiatives and what the Agency is doing to promote more green projects. In addition, topics such as the costs and benefits of green infrastructure, climate change concerns and impacts, and collaborations with new partners will be discussed. Other conference activities include a Gray & Green Infrastructure Tour, the 2007 NACWA Open golf tournament, meetings of NACWA’s standing committees, and a reception at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A complete conference agenda is available on NACWA’s Conferences and Meetings webpage (click here), along with online registration and hotel information.