Obama Re-Election Could Accelerate Drinking Water Regulation

Dec. 1, 2012
The 2012 elections preserved the status quo in the nation's capital: Democrats will keep control of the White House and Senate while Republicans will continue to direct the House of Representatives.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The 2012 elections preserved the status quo in the nation's capital: Democrats will keep control of the White House and Senate while Republicans will continue to direct the House of Representatives.

A lame duck session of Congress was scheduled in mid-November to address critical tax issues and ways to prevent automatic federal budget cuts scheduled for Jan. 2. Ken Kopicis, the nominee to become the Environmental Protection Agency's assistant administrator for water, could be confirmed during the lame duck session or by the new 113th Congress.

Following the election, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) observed that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had set an ambitious agenda in Obama's first term, including a quota for new drinking water regulations, redefining the Clean Water Act jurisdiction over wetlands and state waters, and drafting an integrated permit framework for wastewater and stormwater, among other initiatives.

AWWA said those actions have stirred dissention and brought pressure to replace Jackson, although she has the support of environmental groups. If Jackson resigns next year, as some have speculated, AWWA said Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe would be a likely replacement.

"We expect the effort to promulgate additional drinking water standards to continue and even escalate in the President's second term, and we are likely to see a number of new or revised drinking water standards proposed as soon as early next year. These are likely to include perchlorate, nitrosamines, a group of volatile organic chemicals, and revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule," AWWA said.

The association said despite the federal fiscal problems, there is significant interest in Congress to support increased water infrastructure investment, although support for a self-sustaining water trust fund has diminished.

Hurricane Sandy

Water infrastructure investments are mandatory if the nation is to avoid extreme water events like Hurricane Sandy, the Water Environmental Federation (WEF) said after the November election.

WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger said replacing the nation's aging water infrastructure is one of the key problems the Obama administration faces over the next four years.

"Our essential water infrastructure is failing and is woefully inadequate to address the 'new normal' weather patterns. Restoring existing drinking water systems and expanding them to serve a growing population will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years."

Eger said, "With millions of Americans out of work, the timing could not be better to reinvest in our water infrastructure, create jobs, boost the nation's economy, and get more prepared for the next wet weather emergency."

The Environmental Defense Fund said, "Hurricane Sandy and climate change were decisive factors in this election. We must get serious about climate solutions in order to protect our loved ones and communities from terrible impacts — extreme weather disasters, droughts, heat waves, and other dangerous consequences of global warming."

CWA Anniversary

Special interest groups observed the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in October.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the Association of Clean Water Administrators (ACWA) noted CWA's accomplishments and called for further water quality progress.

"We should be proud of the accomplishments we've made under the Clean Water Act," said Ken Kirk, NACWA executive director. "But to achieve the next level of water quality progress utilities need to be able to prioritize their efforts to achieve the greatest environmental return for the money invested. The federal government must also continue to be a full, long-term partner in meeting the growing costs of CWA compliance and infrastructure maintenance and repair."

Jeff Eger, WEF executive director, said, "We need both the CWA funding and the flexibility in order to protect future public health, create jobs, and support a sound national economy."

Alexandra Dunn, ACWA executive director, said, "We need to support states and interstates, so that they can carry out effective programs in collaboration with EPA and all stakeholders — and move us closer to achieving our nation's water quality goals."

Climate Change

A Water Research Foundation (WaterRF) study has reported that federal laws are restricting the utility industry's ability to adapt to climate change.

WaterRF said current laws and regulations governing water quality restrict water utilities' ability to modify operations to address climate change-related challenges. However, it said in the years ahead, the industry most likely will face new regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions.

The group recently released "Building a Climate-Ready Regulatory System" and a companion action plan. This project was supported and funded in part by the American Water Works Association.

The report examines the major federal legislation and regulation governing water utilities to identify where they reduce a utility's ability to adapt to climate change and reduce GHG emissions cost-effectively. It then overlays potential and pending climate change and water quality legislation and regulations at the state, regional, and federal levels. Finally, it identifies opportunities for policy changes that would allow utilities to balance reducing their carbon footprint with drinking water standards and regulations, water supply demands and other social and financial goals.

"In the next few years, the U.S. water supply industry will face one of the most complex simultaneous compliance challenges: increasingly strict water quality standards coupled with climate change and, specifically, greenhouse gas emissions controls," said Rob Renner, WaterRF executive director.

"Since climate change policies will introduce new regulatory challenges to many facets of water utility operations, they represent a challenge of unparalleled scope and complexity. The Foundation's Climate Change Strategic Initiative funded extensive research to give utility managers insights into the implications of climate change."

In other Washington news:

• Peter Grevatt has been named to succeed Cynthia Dougherty as director of EPA's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. In his career at EPA, Grevatt has served in management positions in the Office of Children's Health Protection, the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, the Office of Science and Technology and the Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds.

• Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) planned to file a new version of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which is designed to build the state revolving funds, during the lame duck session. The bill is expected to be reintroduced in the new Congress next year.

• The National Association of Water Companies has named Robert Sprowls, president and CEO of American States Water Co., to be president of its board of directors. He succeeds Lisa Sparrow, president and CEO of Utilities Inc., who will continue to serve on the board.

• Following Hurricane Sandy, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asked the WEF to help identify individuals and agencies that might be able to provide technical and operational assistance to affected water utilities.

• The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has asked EPA to withdraw its determination to regulate perchlorate in drinking water. It said the agency improperly used raw water data instead of data from post-treatment samples to set baseline occurrence estimates that were used to make the regulatory determination.

• EPA is providing up to $3 million in research grants for projects that will study the benefits of green techniques in controlling stormwater pollution in Philadelphia. The funds will support research projects focusing on key aspects of green infrastructure in a 40,500-acre area of the city experiencing frequent sewer system overflows.

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