Power Shift in Senate May Benefit Water Industry

The water treatment industry may be in for a breather when it comes to environmental regulations and enforcement over the next few years.

By James Laughlin

The water treatment industry may be in for a breather when it comes to environmental regulations and enforcement over the next few years. With the Republican party taking power in both the House and Senate, environmental regulation is expected to be moved to the back burner, or even off the stove.

The environmental movement lost a champion in Senator Robert Smith when he was defeated by Rep. John Sununu in the New Hampshire primaries. His ouster put Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) in line to lead Republicans on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and become chairman of the panel now that the Republicans have regained control over the Senate.

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee has oversight over programs in five cabinet level departments and seven independent agencies, among those are the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality, the civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others.

The committee also has oversight over environmental regulations as they pertain to water, and holds the purse strings on water infrastructure financing.

Officials on the municipal side of the water industry had been hoping for additional federal funding to replace aging water infrastructure. The chances of that happening any time soon took a serious dive after the November elections.

On the industrial side, federal funding was never an option. So, in effect, the shift in power in the Senate is good news all around for those who have had to deal with the burden of environmental rules.

Inhofe has received a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters for the last three Congresses, and is known for his opposition to environmental regulation. He is especially protective of the business industry in general and the oil & gas industry in particular.

Last spring Inhofe opposed what he considered to be the "partisan" Water Investment Act of 2002 (S.1961) for several reasons. He said the bill's original intent to streamline and improve the loan application and review process for local water utilities instead made the process more complicated. He also said that the bill did not provide funds to communities that need them most, including his own state of Oklahoma which he said stood to lose about $1.5 million in federal clean water funds.

Inhofe also opposed an Everglades cleanup bill and another that would have revamped the work of the Corps of Engineers.

Of course, Inhofe is only one man. However, the Bush administration and its environmental policies have already come under attack from environmentalist who are concerned that we're seeing a rollback of environmental enforcement and regulation.

House Democrats recently released a report blasting Bush administration policies on the environment. They pointed to Bush's repeated attempts to undercut EPA enforcement actions. One key example is the decision by the White House to suspend implementation of EPA's rule on Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL). Bush's opponents argue that the rule would have given states an additional tool in addressing the more than 20,000 rivers, lakes, streams, and other waterbody segments that remain dangerously polluted. Washington insiders say the TMDL rule won't see the light of day any time soon.

Maintaining a "clean and green" water treatment system makes good sense from a business standpoint. Even though the nation's leadership may be easing off on regulation and enforcement, that doesn't mean the work of environmental managers and treatment system operators can go undone. They're just under a little less pressure. That's a good thing in today's economy.

James Laughlin, Editor

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