May 31, 2002

Washington News

NWS Sees Only Limited Drought Relief

The National Weather Service (NWS) expects only limited
relief from the severe drought conditions that have affected much of the East
Coast and the western United States.

While there has been some recent rainfall, the drought
“has been so severe that months of normal-to-above normal precipitation
are necessary to end it,” the agency reported.

The Weather Service, a division of the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, gave these specifics about
drought areas.

Georgia to Maine—There has been some improvement in
reservoir storage and well levels but “cumulative rainfall deficits since
October range from 9–12 inches across large sections of the eastern
seaboard, with some locations showing higher deficits.”

The Great Plains—The outlook is for improvement with
normal to above-normal rainfall easing dry conditions that extend from the
Texas Panhandle to the Dakotas.

Southern/Southwestern Texas—Improvement expected
“although water supply problems are likely to linger.”

Southern California/Western New Mexico/Southern parts of
Utah, Nevada and California—Cumulative precipitation since October has
been less than half of normal, and significant improvement is not likely before

Montana, Wyoming, Utah, other parts of Colorado—Spring
and summer stream flows are expected to be only 50–70 percent of normal
in these areas, with lesser flows in some sections.

Southern/Eastern Idaho—Low stream flows with possible
summer water supply shortages.


Court Upholds Discharge Limits at Pulp/Paper Mills

The discharge limitations that the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) set for pulp and paper mills have been unanimously
affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Tom Sansonetti, assistant U.S. attorney general for the Environment
and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department, said:
“Implementation of the standards...will assure that American paper mills
take advantage of the latest pollution-control technology, resulting in
significant water quality improvements nationwide.”

At EPA, Tracy Mehan, assistant administrator for water, said
the pulp and paper rule “will reduce dioxin discharges, protecting the
health of millions of American families who live near the mills. It will lead
to the cleanup of over 70 rivers and streams across the nation.”

Among the changes made by the new rule, existing mills will
no longer be able to use the most harmful types of chlorine for bleaching.


EPA Completes Review of Regulations

EPA has completed a six-year review of 69 existing
regulations covering drinking water.

The agency is seeking comment on its preliminary proposals
to revise the standard for total coliforms.  Presently, it does not plan to take up the remaining 68
rules for chemical contaminants.

The agency said its revisions to the coliform standard will
be designed to provide better indications of risks to public health than the
current rule provides.

While determining that the other 68 rules covered in the
review should not be revised at this time, EPA pointed out that new health
assessments are now underway for 36 of the contaminants involved and the
results of those assessments could show a need for later revisions.

Additional information, including a list of the standards,
is available at


GAO Reports on “Disadvantaged” Aid

States have made only limited use of the disadvantaged
communities provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the General Accounting
Office has told Congress.

The 1996 amendments to the act authorized states to use up
to 30 percent of  the
capitalization grants for their Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to provide
additional subsidies to communities that qualify as

While states have flexibility in defining a disadvantaged
communities, those that do offer the subsidies generally use a standard based
on household water rates relative to the community’s household income.

In recent testimony to a House of Representatives
subcommittee on environmental issues, David G. Wood, director of Natural
Resources and Environment for the General Accounting Office said that as of the
end of 2001, 25 states had provided assistance to disadvantaged communities
through their DWSRFs and six more had adopted plans to do so. The assistance
takes the form of loan subsidies or extended loan terms.

Of 14 states that provided loan subsidies,Wood said, the
closest any state came to the law’s 30 percent potential assistance was
Maine at 23 percent.

The 19 states that had neither offered nor planned to offer
assistance to disadvantaged communities said reasons included concerns about
maintaining their SRFs, the availability of such assistance from other federal
or state programs and the fact that they already offered loans at below-market
interest rates.         


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New Policy To Benefit “Performance Track” Members

Reporting requirements will be simplified for publicly owned
treatment works that participate in EPA’s National Environmental
Performance Track program.

In addition, those members will be allowed to store waste on
site for an additional 90 days beyond present requirements if they can provide
secondary containment.

EPA defines members of the Performance Track program as
“top environmental performers—companies and communities that
voluntarily go beyond compliance with regulatory requirements  to attain levels of environmental
performance that benefit the environment, people and communities.”

Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said the special rules
for track members “advance the principle that high-performing utilities
should be allowing them to focus more on environmental
progress, instead of process.”        

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