EPA's ETV Program: Let's Verify the Facts

"With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved" William James (1842-1910)

by Dawn C. Kristof, WWEMA President

"With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved" William James (1842-1910)

This quote from William James comes to mind when thinking of two programs underway at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that directly impact manufacturers of environmental technologies, and ultimately, the end users.

The first program, in a developmental stage, would establish a "voluntary" labeling system for water-efficient products, similar to the program that exists for energy efficient appliances, known as Energy Star. The other program, which has been in existence for several years, provides a "voluntary" mechanism to verify performance claims made by producers, known as the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Program.

Notice that I placed the word voluntary in quotes. It is true that neither program is regulatory driven. EPA hopes that the success of these programs will make the need for a regulatory approach moot. I would submit, however, that EPA's ownership of these programs creates a de facto climate in which compliance on the part of the technology providers is expected, similar to the impact the ISO standards is having on companies wishing to do business internationally.

It's the nature of our business. Once a community references use of these verified reports, others will demand the same as an added insurance policy. Once one company gets its product claims verified, others will have to follow suit in order to remain competitive.

That, in itself, is not necessarily bad. What deserves thoughtful consideration is whether the "good intentions" of these programs will actually be met, or will they just add another layer of cost to bringing technologies to the marketplace.

Case in point. WWEMA first learned of EPA's plans to create an Environmental Technology Verification Program back in the early 1990s. Of particular interest to us was EPA's intent to initially focus on small, packaged treatment plants, the goal being to bring cost-effective solutions to rural communities facing burdensome environmental requirements.

EPA's rationale was that by independently verifying performance claims, companies could avoid costly pilot testing of their technologies and thus be subject to a less expensive, expedited approval process ... with ultimate savings to the community. Further, by providing a system to verify performance claims, the market would be more receptive to using new technologies.

WWEMA testified at a public hearing during the formation of the ETV program that while the goal of the program was laudable, the result may in fact increase the cost of these technologies and stifle innovation. WWEMA knew full well that verified performance claims would never eliminate the need for pilot testing, given the unique characteristics of each water source that is being treated.

WWEMA cautioned that the expense of having to go through the verification process will create an additional barrier to entry in the marketplace, potentially deterring new companies from investing in this industry and further reducing access to needed innovation. Finally, WWEMA questioned whether using EPA funds to help defray the cost of getting a product verified was an appropriate use of limited federal funds, given the other pressing needs facing EPA in carrying out its traditional regulatory activities. Should the industry find the program to be of value, it would pay for its operations, WWEMA contends.

Eight years later, the ETV program has expanded in scope, encompassing five centers. Over 200 technologies have been verified to date. EPA continues to subsidize the cost of verifying technologies, pilot tests remain a fixture in the industry, and innovation has not taken hold.

WWEMA decided it was time to engage EPA in a constructive dialogue about the fate of the ETV program. We have met on several occasions with federal, state and industry officials and discussed a number of concerns shared by companies who have gone through the verification process. Among them: the high costs associated with the program, regardless of subsidies offered, with no commensurate reduction in pilot testing requirements; the significant time it takes to go through the process; the lack of competition among verifying organizations; the lack of universal acceptance of the program by state administrators; and the inability to use existing peer-reviewed data or prior pilot test results in the verification approval process.

With regard to pilot testing, it should be noted that the very premise of the ETV program is flawed in thinking that pilot testing would be eliminated or drastically reduced for technologies that have gone through the verification process. While this premise may apply to some technologies that are not environmentally sensitive, such as probes and analyzers, biological treatment systems are subject to seasonal effects and variations in source waters, thus demanding that pilot testing be performed in most instances. In addition, the testing that is done does not test the manufacturer's key performance claims, as these are necessarily site specific.

Regardless of these pervasive concerns, WWEMA remains committed to working with the EPA and other stakeholders to find solutions that provide the end users the technologies they need in an expeditious, cost-effective fashion. By taking a hard look at the realities that surround this program, we should be able to make needed improvements which will result in a better system for all to benefit.

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