Congress Considers "Buy American" Clause for SRF Funding

A requirement to use American-made iron and steel products on State Revolving Fund (SRF) projects has added controversy to a funding bill in Congress.

Aug 1st, 2012

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

A requirement to use American-made iron and steel products on State Revolving Fund (SRF) projects has added controversy to a funding bill in Congress.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a Fiscal 2013 spending bill that would cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the drinking water and clean water SRFs. The bill would allocate $7 billion to EPA in fiscal 2013, including $1.5 billion for the SRF program, down $866 million from current levels.

In a report, the committee explained that the SRF programs got a $6 billion infusion in the 2009 economic stimulus legislation. It said EPA has $2.4 billion in unobligated SRF funds yet to be transferred to states, and the states themselves have yet to spend $5 billion already allocated.

The panel adopted an amendment by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) that would deny SRF funding for water infrastructure projects unless all of the iron and steel was made in the United States. EPA could issue exemptions to the requirement if American-made products would increase project costs by 25%, were of unsatisfactory quality or were "inconsistent with the public interest."

Rep. Aderholt noted that the SRF is the only major federal infrastructure program without a statutory domestic preference for American-made iron and steel.

Water groups had warned lawmakers that the "Buy American" amendment could increase costs and regulatory burdens, delay construction, or force redesign.

The Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association said, "While we all support efforts to boost the U.S. economy and support its manufacturing base, proposals to do so by imposing restrictive procurement requirements on the SRF programs and our municipalities will have the opposite effect."

Also protesting the amendment were the National Association of Water Companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and construction and engineering associations.

Farm Bill

The Senate has narrowly rejected an amendment to the Farm Bill that would have allowed large drinking water systems to distribute their annual consumer confidence reports (CCRs) via the Internet rather than mailed paper copies. The measure received 58 votes, two votes shy of the 60 needed under Senate rules.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and other water groups had lobbied for the amendment, which drew support from all Senate Republicans and 11 Democrats.

After the vote, the water groups continued to lobby for a stand-alone bill this session to permit electronic reporting. They told the Environment and Public Works Committee that there had been false reports that the change would eliminate drinking water right-to-know requirements or allow water systems without websites not to issue CCRs.

The Senate-passed Farm Bill included measures to encourage water utilities to partner with farmers on water quality protection projects, improve nutrient management, and link some crop insurance assistance to water quality protection activities.

Supreme Court Rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 that Indianapolis could charge different rates for sewer hookups after installing a new payment system in 2005.

The court affirmed an Indiana Supreme Court ruling that the Indiana city did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution when it forgave debt for some homeowners who owed money under the old payment system.

Indianapolis had approved a system in 2005 to require homeowners to pay a flat $2,500 fee to connect to a sewer line, plus monthly fees. Previously, they had been assessed an equal share of the project's cost, payable in full or over time.

In the legal case, some homeowners sued the city because they ended up paying $9,278 for sewer hookups while others had paid only $309.

The city said it did not want to administer two complex and expensive programs until all debts were paid under the old system.

The U.S. Supreme Court said that the law recognizes that governments can distinguish between past payments and future obligations, even if it means unequal treatment for citizens.

Separately, the high court agreed to review a California case involving whether Clean Water Act (CWA) permits are required for water transfers in stormwater management.

Last year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that the Los Angeles County Flood Control District's transfers of water from one section of a water body through a manmade channel to another section of the same water body require CWA permits.

The county maintained the Supreme Court ruled in South Florida Water Management District vs. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians that permits are not required for water transfers between basins in a water body.

In other Washington news:

EPA is awarding $2.7 million to 46 organizations in 32 states and Puerto Rico to help restore canals, rivers, lakes, wetlands, aquifers, estuaries, bays and oceans in urbanized areas. Grants range from $30,000 to $60,000.

In the June 28 Federal Register, EPA has listed 10 more methods for analyzing drinking water samples for contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In its annual report on beach closures, the Natural Resources Defense Council noted more than 3,000 incidents in 2011, the third highest level in two decades. It said stormwater runoff and sewage pollution were responsible for most closures.

The Water Environment Research Foundation has launched WATERiD, an on-line knowledge base, that permits utilities to share experiences, information, and lessons learned in managing water infrastructure.

Culpeper, Va. will pay a $27,420 penalty and make more than $100,000 in upgrades at its water treatment facility to settle alleged environmental violations at its water treatment facilities. EPA said the town failed to immediately disclose the release of 106 pounds of chlorine in May 2008.

EPA said Huntington, W.Va., has agreed to pay a $15,000 penalty to settle CWA complaints and implement $84,000 in projects to improve water quality in the Ohio River. Among other things, it will remove much of an asphalt parking lot to create more green space in a riverfront park.

EPA said a 1999 consent decree is being amended to give Atlanta, Ga., more time to complete repairs needed to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows. It said Atlanta has reduced 97% since 2004 at a cost of $1.5 billion but has $445 million of work pending.

U.S. consumption of bottled water increased 4.1% in 2011 to 9.1 billion gallons. The International Bottled Water Association reported that per-capita consumption was up 3.2%, with every person in America drinking an average of 29.2 gallons.

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