Senate Measure Focuses on Wastewater Plant Security

The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee has approved a bill designed to improve the security of wastewater facilities.

The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee has approved a bill designed to improve the security of wastewater facilities.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), committee chairman, said the legislation “seeks to work with local governments and wastewater treatment plants to provide needed support and additional tools to help ensure these facilities are secure from a potential terrorist attack and able to respond to, and recover quickly from, natural disasters.”

The committee rejected an amendment that would eliminate the use of chlorine.

Inhofe said chlorine is by far the most effective, least expensive disinfectant available. He noted that a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that many of the largest wastewater facilities had switched from chlorine to other technologies -- and without a federal mandate to do so.

“We at the federal level must continue to work with state and local government to provide support to publicly owned wastewater facilities by not imposing one-size fits all, heavy-handed, unfunded federal regulations,” he said.

Inhofe said the bill would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide grants for smaller wastewater plants to develop emergency response plans and form mutual aid and emergency network associations. For those and other initiatives, the program would be funded at $220 million.

Sen. Jim Jeffords (Ind.-Vt.), the senior minority member on the committee, had offered the anti-chlorine amendment.

His amendment would have required that the highest risk facilities transition from chlorine to technologies such as ultraviolet, ozone, or bleach, authorizing $625 million for grants for that purpose.

Jeffords said the committee-approved bill establishes greatly different security rules for wastewater facilities than for drinking water facilities, although GAO reported 40% of them were co-located. “This simply does not make sense,” he said.

Homeland Security Completes Infrastructure Protection Plan

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has completed its National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), a risk management framework that defines critical infrastructure protection roles and responsibilities for all levels of government, private industry, and nongovernmental agencies.

George Foresman, DHS Under Secretary for Preparedness, said, “The NIPP formalizes and strengthens existing critical infrastructure partnerships and creates the baseline for how the public and private sectors will work together to build a safer, more secure and resilient America.”

The vast majority of the nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by private industry or state, tribal and local governments. The plan identified 17 critical infrastructure and key resource sectors that require protective actions for a terrorist attack or other hazards, including drinking water and water treatment systems.

Sector-specific plans that complement the NIPP and detail the risk management framework will be released within 6 months. They will address unique characteristics and risk landscapes, and will be developed in collaboration with sector specific security partners.

House, Senate Committees Agree on SRF Funding Levels

The House Appropriations Committee has trimmed $200 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) to $688 million, while raising the Drinking Water (SRF) $4 million to $841.5 million for fiscal 2007.

The Senate Appropriations committee matched those spending levels, all but ensuring the funding would be granted, since it also matched the Bush administration’s request. They mark a steady drop in the Clean Water SRF, which had been funded at $1.35 billion in fiscal 2004.

The American Water Works Association had urged the committee to allocate $842 million for the Drinking Water SRF and $1.35 billion for the Clean Water SRF.

Compared to fiscal 2006, the bill also would provide $99.1 million for drinking water programs, up $3.5 million, and $820,000 more for state drinking water primacy programs, to $99.1 million.

The bill would increase state grants for water pollution control programs $5.5 million to $221.7 million and hold the grants for state nonpoint pollution control programs at $204.3 million. Funding for wastewater operator training was eliminated.

Clean Water America (CWA) complained that the bill ignored recent studies by EPA, GAO, the Congressional Budget Office and the Water Infrastructure Network that estimated a water infrastructure funding gap of $300 billion over the next 20 years

CWA said, “This proposed budget cut to the Clean Water SRF is the wrong measure at the wrong time. Without a long-term, sustainable federal-state-local partnership communities will not be able to tackle essential capital replacement projects needed to meet federal Clean Water Act mandates and improve the quality of the nation’s waters.”

CWA has advocated creation of a national trust fund supported by dedicated revenue sources, similar to the highway fund, to support Clean Water projects.

AWWA Opposes Antifreeze Proposal

AWWA has objected to a House of Representatives bill that mandates use of denatonium benzoate (DB) as a “bittering” agent in antifreeze and grants liability immunity to manufacturers and sellers of such antifreeze.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) offered the amendment to the Federal Hazardous Substances Act to mandate DB in antifreeze at levels ranging from 30-50 milligrams/liter and exempt manufacturers, processors, distributors, recyclers and sellers of such antifreeze from being held liable for personal injury, death, property and environmental damage or economic loss related to its use.

An AWWA representative testified on the issue before a May 23 hearing of the House Energy Committee’s Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

The association likened the DB safe harbor provision to similar protection for methyl tertiary butyl ether manufacturers that Congress revoked in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

It said little is known about the environmental fate and transport of DB but water suppliers think it is reasonable to expect contamination as DB accumulates in groundwater.

AWWA said small amounts of DB could render drinking water supplies bitter and unpalatable. “It would be very imprudent to provide far-reaching liability immunity to companies making or handling antifreeze containing this or any other aversive agent.”

The association said if DB contaminates water supplies, utilities would have to change or add treatment to remove it, and in severe cases would have to abandon water supplies or the develop new sources.

AWWA said a regulatory agency should determine which bittering agent should be used, based on assessing scientific data and public comment.

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