Congress Studies Bill to Support Water Research

US Senate Energy & Natural Resources Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) led a bipartisan group of senators and two House members July 14 in introducing legislation...

By Maureen Lorenzetti

US Senate Energy & Natural Resources Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) led a bipartisan group of senators and two House members July 14 in introducing legislation to create a federal water technology program aimed at expanding and coordinating water technology research nationwide.

If enacted, the bill, The Department of Energy National Laboratory Water Technology Research and Development Act of 2004, would involve the Department of Energy national lab system in partnership with universities around the country. The federal government and outside academics would design and deploy technologies aimed at providing more clean water for residential, commercial, industrial and natural resources. The bill authorizes $200 million annually for basic and applied research and development in water supply technologies.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA; Jeff Bingaman, D-NM; Richard Durbin, D-IL, and Larry Craig, R-ID, are cosponsoring the bill. Representatives Richard Pombo, R-CA, and Ken Calvert, R-CA, are also cosponsors.

"We have neglected federal water research for too long. Now, we are faced with regional droughts and a pending water shortages of one type or another in most regions of the country," Domenici said.

The bill is not expected to pass this session but sponsors are hopeful they can reach a quick consensus on the legislation sooner than later.

"Our investment is water research has been like a leaky faucet. A drip and occasional dribble. Let's turn the faucet on full. With shortages on the horizon, let's put more money and brain power into developing water technologies that will augment our supply of clean water," Domenici said.

"My bill is ambitious, but our efforts must be as big as the problem. I want to fund a state-of-the-art design and deployment program that ensures that Americans and the world's people have adequate access to water. New science and technology, properly organized and deployed, can avert looming water crises, dramatically expanding the clean and useable water available to Americans."

Domenici's Democratic counterpart also strongly endorsed the legislation.

"Drought and population changes are just two of the most significant factors making the management and use of water an urgent issue facing our country," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, ranking member. "Meeting this challenge requires an increased national commitment to water resources research. This legislation makes that commitment, and in doing so strongly supports the good efforts already underway at our national laboratories."

House panel keeps controversial EPA spending cuts

The House Appropriations Committee in July approved an annual spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year that cuts 5% from current US EPA funding levels. The full House will consider the measure, most likely as part of a large catch-all government spending bill, when members return from their summer recess in early September. Under the pending proposal, most of the agency's budget cuts came from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which would be set at the White House's recommended $850 million level, significantly lower than the $1.35 billion Congress approved last year.

Other EPA funding includes $845 million for the safe drinking water state revolving fund.

The Senate has not yet formally considered EPA spending levels yet for the upcoming fiscal year but is expected to propose a higher level.

Northeast Attorneys General Sue EPA over Clean Water Rules

The attorneys general of six Northeast states have filed suit against the US Environmental Protection Agency over new regulations designed to control power plant water intakes; states fear the rules will harm the fishing industry and degrade the environment.

Rhode Island is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit filed July 27 in the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. They also asked EPA to delay the rule while the court reviews the disputed rule. The northeast states argue that EPA's July 9 "316b Phase II rule" violates federal clean water laws because it would make it easier for existing power plants to avoid installing state-of-the-art equipment to reduce the large amounts of water currently being withdrawn from oceans, bays and rivers by generators.

"We are mounting a vigorous challenge to this rule, which would further degrade our waters and, ultimately, the sustainability of our fishery resources," said Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch. Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York also joined the lawsuit.

"The law requires EPA to issue and enforce rules that direct power plants to use the best and most effective technology to protect our nation's waterways. Once again, EPA has put the demands of power plant operators ahead of what is best for our environment. These rules violate the Clean Water Act and, if left unchallenged, will do serious harm to the aquatic environment," New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said.

EPA officials say the rule is fair and balanced, and they intend to defend their proposal in court if necessary.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that power plants discharging pollution into US waters obtain National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits from either EPA or a state agency with a state-approved program. The Clean Water Act additionally requires that plants discharging pollution pursuant to such a permit must also ensure that the cooling water intake structures "Ureflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact."

The multi-state court challenge responds to EPA's decision to consider cost when setting standards for existing plants. The states argue that EPA must give a reasoned explanation for departing from its three-decades-old standard of requiring plants to meet certain intake limits unless the costs of doing so are "Uwholly disproportionate toU" the benefits.

"Using cost as a basis for not requiring a certain technology even when that technology minimizes adverse environmental impacts, and even when the benefits clearly outweigh the cost, is contrary to the goals and purposes of the Clean Water Act, contrary to the plain meaning of the Clean Water Act, and contrary to common sense," Lynch said.

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