Power Shift in Congress May Lead to Environmental Focus

I wrote a column a few years back discussing the environmental impact of Democrats versus Republication leadership in Congress.

I wrote a column a few years back discussing the environmental impact of Democrats versus Republication leadership in Congress. To boil it down, I felt that Democrats were more likely to approve new environmental regulations and push for more EPA enforcement, while Republicans would be less interested in the environment in general.

That difference between parties can be good or bad, depending on your role in the water industry: Increased regulation and enforcement are viewed as drivers of business by the consultants, contractors and equipment manufacturers who serve the utility industry. For operators of water treatment systems, they’re a burden that must be addressed along with shrinking budgets and aging infrastructure.

While we’ve had new regulations enacted over the past several years under the Republican leadership, and some heavy fines levied against municipalities around the country, the Bush administration and Republican Congress have been viewed as soft on the environment and accused of rolling back the advances we’ve made over the past 30+ years.

Environmentalists are hailing the Democratic victories of November as a positive step for the environment. I don’t know that it will have a significant impact on the water industry, but a re-shuffling of committee leadership on the House and Senate could result in either new regulation or increased enforcement.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, will head the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer has crusaded for cleaner drinking water in the past and is currently pushing for a lower perchlorate standard. In January 2006, the USEPA issued guidance that called for a preliminary remediation goal of 24.5 parts per billion for perchlorate contamination in groundwater. In contrast, California has a “health goal” of 6 ppb for perchlorate.

Even though perchlorate is an important issue in her home state, Boxer has said her top priority as chair of the environment committee will be to hold hearings on global warming.

John Dingell, who has a reputation for holding investigative hearings, will take back his post as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which he lost in 1995. One of his stated targets for investigative hearings is EPA and its lack of enforcement over the past few years.

On a more positive note, James Oberstar, D-MN, is expected to lead the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which pays for highways, airports, navigation, and water and sewage projects. Oberstar has said he will renew the state revolving loan fund programs and that passage of the Water Resources Development Act would be at the top of his to-do list.

“If we can spend $20 billion in Iraq, unaccounted for, on building water and sewer and waste treatment facilities, and trying to regenerate their electrical generating plants, then we can do it here at home,” Oberstar was quoted as saying on a public radio program in Minnesota.

Despite Oberstar’s ambitions, Nancy Pelosi, the next Speaker of the House, said she plans to institute a “pay as you go” policy when it comes to federal funding - meaning if you want more money you either increase revenue or identify other programs to cut. I suspect that means no significant increase in federal funding for water in the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately for us (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), water is not likely to be a high profile issue in the next two years leading up to the presidential election in 2008. The war in Iraq and your basic political in-fighting are more likely to consume Washington for the near future.

James Laughlin, Editor

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