Aug 05, 2009

Rep. Henry Waxman Introduces Water System Security Act

Bill would require EPA to set performance standards for systems with security risks

Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), along with Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), recently introduced the Drinking Water System Security Act of 2009 with the support of the largest drinking water utilities and environmental and labor groups in the nation.

The bill would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish risk-based performance standards for community water systems serving more than 3,300 people and certain other public water systems with security risks.

"This important legislation will better help us protect and secure our nation from potential acts of terrorism against our nation's drinking water facilities," Waxman said. "We must protect workers and neighbors of drinking water facilities and ensure a safe and reliable drinking water supply. We are introducing this bill with the support of the largest water utilities as well as environmental and labor groups. This broad coalition shows that this bill provides a common-sense approach to securing America's drinking water."

"The consensus is clear: We must upgrade security at drinking water systems to ensure that a terrorist can't poison the water or turn the chemicals used to disinfect our drinking water into a weapon of mass destruction," Markey said.

Drinking water facilities often use or store chemicals that, if released, can form toxic clouds that endanger surrounding communities. Terrorists could also potentially steal chemicals from these facilities to create an improvised weapon of mass destruction. Drinking water facilities also face the unique threat of terrorists contaminating the drinking water supply, endangering the health of thousands or millions of people.

In 2006, as part of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security to issue chemical facility security regulations that exempted drinking water and wastewater facilities. The Drinking Water System Security Act authorizes EPA to strengthen security at drinking water systems in the U.S. under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The legislation would:
&#149 Require EPA to assign covered water systems to one of four risk-based tiers ranging from tier 1, the highest-risk systems, to tier 4, the lowest-risk of the covered water systems;
&#149 Require covered water systems to identify vulnerabilities and develop site security plans to addresses those vulnerabilities and meet risk-based security standards, which vary by tier;
&#149 Require all covered water systems with dangerous chemicals in amounts higher than federal thresholds to assess whether they can switch to safer chemicals or processes to reduce the consequences of an act of terrorism;
&#149 Require that covered water systems include employees in the development of security vulnerability assessments and site security plans and that they receive the training necessary to perform their duties under the plans;
&#149 Require EPA to develop standards to protect security-related information while encouraging the proper sharing of this information among those with an official need to know; and
&#149 Set criminal penalties for purposeful, unlawful disclosure of this protected information.

The legislation has key support from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), which has endorsed the bill. AMWA represents 190 member utilities, including the largest publicly owned drinking water systems in the U.S., which serve more than 125 million Americans.

Numerous environmental and labor groups also have endorsed the bill, including Clean Water Action; Earthjustice; The Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Mich; Environment America; Environmental Health Fund; Environmental Health Strategy Center of Maine; Greenpeace; United Automobile; Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW); New Jersey Work Environment Council; OMB Watch; Physicians for Social Responsibility; Sierra Club; United Steelworkers; and U.S. PIRG.

Read the Drinking Water System Security Act of 2009 here.