NMA challenges 'midnight' water regulation

The National Mining Association petitioned a federal court here to overturn stringent new arsenic drinking water regulations issued in the final days of the Clinton administration.

Washington—The National Mining Association petitioned a federal court here to overturn stringent new arsenic drinking water regulations issued in the final days of the Clinton administration.

The new rules, published in the federal register on January 22, the day after President Clinton left office, were in spite of congressional efforts to have the Environmental Protection Agency develop better scientific evidence on the risks of arsenic in water.

EPA's rule is intended to provide public health risk reduction benefits for Americans who are served by public water systems that rely on groundwater or surface water that have elevated levels of arsenic.

NMA's comments said that while the mining industry supports the goals of the Safe Drinking Water Act and agrees it is essential to ensure the safety of our water supply, it is also critical that there be a basis of sound science and consideration of the benefits and costs that Americans will experience.

Until recently, the acceptable level of arsenic in drinking water was 50 parts per billion (ppb). EPA's new standard would reduce the acceptable level by 80 percent, well below levels that often occur naturally in water supplies.

According to NMA, EPA's effort to revise the current arsenic standard has been complicated by the lack of solid scientific evidence showing that arsenic presents a health risk at levels below 50 ppb combined with the enormous costs that are associated with lowering the standard.

"The final rule was a political decision and is not supported by science," NMA said. "EPA itself admitted it was 'unable to specify a safe threshold level' and EPA's own Science Advisory Board criticized the proposed rule as unjustified by the evidence and prohibitively expensive."

NMA stressed that "EPA had seriously underestimated the costs of compliance, particularly for small systems and individual households and disregards entirely implications on the business community, including mining and utilities, as the standard is applied in the context of other environmental programs."

Recognizing the uncertainty of the science, Congress had extended the EPA's deadline for the final rule until June 22, 2001, yet it was rushed out in the "midnight hours" hours of the Clinton administration.

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