Washington News

July 26, 2002

New Agency to Handle Water Security

Protection of the nation's water infrastructure is one of the responsibilities that would be given to the Department of Homeland Security, which President Bush has asked Congress to create.

His proposal, now before Congress, would bring into the new department the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, now in the Commerce Department; the National Infrastructure Protection Center, now part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center, currently part of the Energy Department.

Under the president's plan, the new department "will give state, local and private entities one primary contract instead of many for coordinating protection activities with the federal government, including vulnerability assessments, strategic planning efforts and exercises."

In addition to the water supply, the infrastructure-protection activities will cover agriculture, energy, transportation, emergency services and finance.

The new department also would have responsibilities for identifying and, if necessary, responding to chemical/biological warfare threats to water supply systems. Agencies dealing with these responsibilities would be united under the Emergency Preparedness and Response division of the Homeland Security department.

In a related development, President Bush signed into law the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 that requires water systems to assess their vulnerability to terrorist attack. (See "Washington News," July issue.)

House Panel Addresses Trading Proposals

"The barriers, potential pitfalls and opportunities" related to water quality trading are being explored by the House of Representatives subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

The panel is looking into a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under which industrial, municipal and nonpoint dischargers could trade credits based on their performances in reducing pollution. A facility that reduced pollution more than required under a specific watershed goal would acquire credits that could be sold or otherwise transferred to a discharger that had exceeded the limits.

EPA has been exploring the possibility of such an arrangement for several years, but is moving forward more aggressively toward it under its current leadership.

The Water Resources and Environment subcommittee, a unit of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said in opening its review of the proposed plan that, after considerable progress toward clean-water goals, "remaining pollutant reductions are likely to be expensive and more complex and may require the use of innovative approaches."

"Water quality trading may be a useful tool for achieving some of these pollutant reductions," the subcommittee added.

Benjamin H. Grumbles, the EPA's deputy assistant administrator for water, told the subcommittee that pilot trading projects have shown that trading can reduce pollution loads, be more cost-effective than traditional approaches in reaching water quality goals and be implemented under existing regulations and programs.

However, he added that the pilot projects "also have taught us that pollution reduction will not work everywhere." For example, Grumbles explained, the total pollutant reduction needed from all sources in a given watershed may not allow sufficient surplus reductions to allow trading.

Other witnesses before the subcommittee also generally endorsed the concept of trading while citing potential problems that needed to be avoided in establishing a specific program. One concern related to possible difficulties in establishing standards to determine an initial base of pollution and to determine how each discharger has contributed to changes in that base.

EPA to Review Effluent Guidelines

EPA has issued its proposed Effluent Guidelines Program Plan for 2002/2003. The agency said the plan does not contain additional regulatory requirements but "identifies industrial categories for which EPA expects to develop or revise effluent limitations guidelines and standards." The proposal also sets schedules for that process.

EPA noted in its announcement that its effluent guidelines program has been significantly influenced over the past 10 years by a consent decree that resolved a challenge to the agency's positions on effluent guidelines. June 2004 is the final deadline under the decree for action on an effluent deadline started as a result of the decree, which will terminate when that action is taken.

The end of the decree, EPA said, provides an opportunity for it to evaluate the existing effluent-guideline program "to consider how national industrial regulations can best meet the needs of the broader National Clean Water Program in the years ahead."

A draft strategy for achieving the goal will be published later this year as a starting point for soliciting the views of a broad range of interested parties, the agency said.

More Washington News is available at our website: www.waterinfocenter.com.

Court Upholds EPA on Non-Point TMDLs

The EPA position that its TMDL program extends to non-point sources has been upheld by a federal appeals court.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a federal district court ruling that the environmental agency and the states have authority to identify waterways polluted by runoff from agriculture, urban sources and timber harvesting and to specify the maximum amount of pollutants that can be discharged into those waterways.

Those limits are set under the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program established by the Clean Water Act. The appeals court ruled that the lower federal court was correct in its finding that Congress intended to include non-point source pollution in the Clean Water Act's water-quality standards and planning program.

The court case originated in California when agriculture and timber groups challenged a sediment TMDL for the Garcia River. Agriculture and timber groups held that the EPA and state could base TMDLs only on point-source pollution-pollution discharged from identifiable pipes into waterways.

Security Grants Being Distributed

The first grants to help larger water systems evaluate their security needs and plan improvements are being distributed by EPA. A total of 400 such grants, totaling $53 million, will be made.

The funds are coming from a supplemental appropriation made by Congress in one of its initial responses to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

About the Author

Robert Gray

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