Washington News

March 28, 2003

Mixed Response on Water Funding Plan

The Bush administration's proposal to cut federal funding for Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRF) in the 2003-04 fiscal year has encountered a mixed reception from Congress.

As officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appeared before congressional subcommittees in defense of the spending proposals, the proposal to reduce Clean Water SRF funding to $850 million from the current fiscal year level of $1.3 billion was challenged.

Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, cited expected costs of $400 billion over the next 20 years for replacement of aging water infrastructure. "To meet that need, we need to double the amount of money we are investing in wastewater infrastructure each year," he declared.

At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Chairman James J. Inhofe, R-Okla., endorsed the overall budget. He said it "stresses results over bureaucratic mandates and processes--cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner land over more paperwork and more lawsuits."

Duncan, an influential figure in setting water policies, also said, "I do not expect federal assistance alone will close this gap. However, it is not credible to cut federal assistance by $500 million at a time when needs are increasing." Other subcommittee member expressed similar views.

At the Senate hearing, Sen. James M. Jeffords, I-Vt., senior minority member of the environment committee, told EPA officials that the administration's budget request is "inadequate to the tasks at hand."

"How can the agency justify a $500 million cut in funding to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund?" Jeffords asked.

In support of her agency's proposal on the Clean Water SRFs, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said that while the annual funding was being reduced, the administration was extending the federal commitment to the program to 2011, with the goal of an annual revolving total of $2.8 billion. She compared that with the goal of $2 billion set by the previous administration. The extension, she said, would mean funding for an additional 15,000 projects.

The EPA budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1 also calls for $850 million for the Safe Drinking Water Revolving Funds, the same amount provided for the current year.

EPA Will Measure SRF Impact

The Safe Drinking Water SRF program was cited in the EPA budget plan as having clear purpose, effective design and strong management practices, but the program has been unable to demonstrate the degree to which its infrastructure investments protect public health, "a primary purpose" for the creation of the SRFs, EPA said.

The agency said that it will develop outcome-based performance measures that better demonstrate the impact of the program.

Inhofe Challenges Mercury Report

EPA states it remains concerned about potential prenatal exposure of children to mercury. About eight percent of women of childbearing age have mercury concentrations that could cause this concern, the agency said. It reported that it had adopted a multimedia integrated approach to reducing mercury levels caused by water and air discharges.

The agency's statement was sharply criticized by Chairman Inhofe of the Senate environment committee, who said he found "the alarming snapshot of information about mercury levels to be vague and potentially misleading." Inhofe said the report, while citing risks, "failed to specify how much risk and which women this would impact. Apparently the risks were overstated. As such, it needlessly scared women." He asked EPA Administrator Whitman for a clarification "of what appears to be ambiguous information."

Final Rule Issued on CAFOs

A final EPA rule tightening regulatory requirements for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) takes effect April 14.

It requires all such operations to apply for permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and to implement a nutrient-management plan. The plan must identify site-specific actions the CAFO plans to take to ensure proper and effective management of manure and wastewater, including compliance with Effluent Limitation Guidelines.

EPA said in the final-rule notice published in The Federal Register that "improperly managed manure has caused serious acute and chronic wastewater quality problems throughout the United States."

Details on the rule are available at www.epa.gov/npdes/caforule.

Another recently issued final rule covers pollution from an estimated 2,400 businesses in the fields of metal products and machinery. The agency said compliance with the regulation will keep 500,000 pounds a year of pollutants, primarily oil, grease and total suspended solids from entering waterways. Industry sectors affected include aerospace, motor vehicles, hardware, household equipment and office machines. Further details are available at www.epa.gov/guide/mpm.

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

U.S. Court Upholds Radionuclides Rule

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has rejected claims that existing standards for radionuclides in drinking water are not based on the best available science.

The court decision applies to the rules on radium-226, radium-228, and some beta/photon emitters. The same regulation established uranium standards for the first time.

Two trade associations and several municipal water systems had sought to have the rule overturned in the courts.

Response Team Established for West

The EPA's Environmental Response Team-West has been established with headquarters in Las Vegas, Nev., to respond to environmental emergencies in the western part of the country. Its duties will include water monitoring and sampling, assessing chemical, biological and radiological threats, on-site analysis of contaminated materials, risk assessments, oil-spill cleanup and hazardous waste cleanups at extremely complex and sensitive sites.

An Environmental Response Team-East previously was formed with headquarters in Edison, N.J.

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

About the Author

Robert Gray