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November 7, 2014
2014 Midterm Elections Change Landscape in Congress
The 2014 midterms put Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress. What NACWA members might expect to see under a Republican Congress will begin to emerge over the coming days and weeks and may not be entirely clear until well into this next session. NACWA sent out the October Legislative Update which focused on known and potential House and Senate Leadership changes and is putting together an additional Alert for next week that will analyze the strategic impact of the midterm election on NACWA’s clean water priorities for discussion at NACWA’s upcoming conferences. There were also a number of significant ballot measures that were approved, including California’s Proposition 1 – a $7.6 billion measure for water improvements in the state. So please stay tuned!
Perhaps the most immediate consequence of the elections is the shift in key House and Senate committee slots that impact water-related issues. In the House, Democrats lost three key members, one due to retirement, who held important leadership positions on environment-related committees. Retiring Congressman Jim Moran, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, will be replaced by Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN). Congressmen Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Tim Bishop (D-NY), Ranking Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee and the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee respectively, lost their reelection bids. Tim Bishop is the co-chair of the House Clean Water Caucus so one priority will be to find a new Democratic co-chair for the Caucus, which focuses on Utility of the Future issues.
Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) will likely assume the ranking member spot for the T&I Committee though Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) has announced he will campaign for that position. The ranking member slot for the subcommittee may go to Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD), although there are other, more senior committee members that may make a push for it.
In the Senate, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will assume the chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and EPA, while Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and John Boozman (R-AR) will assume the gavels for the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee and the Water and Wildlife (W&W) Subcommittee, respectively. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) will assume the title of Ranking Member of the EPW Committee and W&W Subcommittee respectively.
How these leadership changes impact water-related issues is unclear at this point. Many Republicans have made EPA’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule and Clean Power Plant rule top priorities to push back on and have proposed policy riders on appropriations bills to strip EPA of any ability to move forward with them. Though this current Congress completed work on a major water infrastructure package (The Water Resources Reform and Development Act) and included within it a new water infrastructure loan guaranty program referred to as WIFIA, neither the House nor Senate Fiscal Year 2015 spending proposal included money to implement it. The upcoming Congress will also deal with a large transportation reauthorization package which expires in May and will require a major infusion of new revenues to meet investment needs. Also, there may be an increased willingness to consider affordability (see related story) and integrated planning legislation, which will continue to be among NACWA’s top priorities.
So, stay tuned for more to come on the impacts from the midterm elections!
The risks to wastewater workers associated with the Ebola virus were discussed this week during a joint Water Environment Federation/Water Environment Research Foundation webcast, co-sponsored by NACWA, the Association of Clean Water Agencies, the American Public Health Association, and WateReuse. The webcast featured a presentation by Matthew Arduino, Chief, Clinical and Environmental Microbiology Branch, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mr. Arduino provided background information about the virus, including how it is transmitted and its ability to survive outside of a host, and cited the CDC’s statement that waste from Ebola patients can be disposed of via the sewer system.
Arduino also referenced the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation that waste can be disposed of in a sanitary sewer or pit latrine with no further treatment necessary. However, the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and good hygiene practices was also emphasized by Mr. Arduino in his presentation. Although the CDC is working on a guidance document, Interim Guidance for Workers Handling Untreated Sewage from Ebola Cases in the United States, a publication date is still not known, and the CDC website remains the best source of information about the virus.
The webcast also included presentations about the research needs related to the Ebola virus in wastewater and the proper use of PPE for wastewater personnel. A recording of the webcast and the presentation handouts are available at http://www.wef.org/EbolaWastewaterConcerns/.
NACWA, American Dental Association Seek Comment Extension for Amalgam Rule; Pretreatment Committee Discusses Strategy
NACWA’s Pretreatment & Pollution Prevention Committee held a conference call yesterday to discuss the proposal and strategies for the Association’s comment effort. Committee members reiterated the position that NACWA has held on the rule for years – that it is unnecessary since state and local dental amalgam separator programs are successful and utilities that do not have mercury problems can better use their resources on other environmental issues. Utilities that already have programs stated that the rule will have no environmental benefits for them, but will cause additional paperwork and administrative burdens. Utilities without programs in place agreed that EPA has seriously underestimated the time and expense for utilities to establish and implement a new dental amalgam separator program. NACWA will be conducting a nationwide survey of public clean water agencies – modeled on a survey currently underway by the North Carolina Pretreatment Consortium – to collect information that will be helpful in determining the rule’s potential impact. NACWA expects to send out the survey next week and encourages all of its impacted members to complete it.
A court in Washington State this week issued a resounding legal victory for land application of biosolids, endorsing arguments made by NACWA and others in the case to overturn a land application ban. In a unanimous published decision in State of Washington v. Wahkiakum County, the Washington Court of Appeals found that a local ban instituted by Wahkiakum County on the application of Class B biosolids was unconstitutional under state law and conflicted with the clear intent of the state legislature to support biosolids recycling.
The court ruled that the local ban failed under the three main analyses of conflict preemption. In particular, the court noted that the ban ran afoul of the clear legislative purpose under state law to encourage recycling of biosolids via land application, explaining that “if local governments have the power to ban land application of biosolids, land application….could be banned throughout the state, clearly thwarting the legislature’s purpose of recycling biosolids through land application.” Additional details and analysis of the decision are available on NACWA’s Litigation Tracking webpage.
NACWA joined with the Northwest Biosolids Management Association (NBMA) and other municipal clean water interests in the Northwest to file a brief in the case encouraging the court to strike down the ban. NACWA applauds the court’s decision, which will provide strong legal precedent for utilities both within Washington State and nationwide to push back against similar local land application bans. The court’s unequivocal language about the danger and illegality of local bans thwarting state and federal laws designed to encourage land application is especially important and can be valuable to land application proponents across the country.
Representatives from several public water and wastewater utilities, and staff from NACWA, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the National League of Cities (NLC), gathered this week at the NACWA office to discuss the issue of affordability and the financial capacity of clean water utilities to meet their Clean Water Act mandates. Dave Rager, Executive Director for the Northern Kentucky Sanitation District No. 1 in Ft. Wright, Kentucky, provided an overview of the work on affordability his utility is doing as it strives to meet its requirements under a federal consent decree. Rager and his team have been employing many of the new approaches to assessing the affordability of clean water spending that NACWA, WEF, AWWA and others have studied over the past several years, which are intended to provide a more refined picture than median household income.
Discussions during the meeting focused on what level of burden associated with clean water spending is considered ‘affordable’; ways to offset impacts on low income populations, including potential federal subsidy programs; opportunities for Congress to provide a more rational approach to addressing financial capability challenges; and other areas where the water sector could work together to advance this issue.
In the wake of the midterm elections, key water sector associations, including NACWA, sent a letter to the Obama Administration in support of full funding to the newly authorized Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) as well as including it in EPA’s FY15 and FY16 budgets. The letter also requests maintaining robust funding for the State Revolving Funds and moving off of any rollbacks to the tax exempt status of municipal bonds.
Along with NACWA, the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) joined on the letter.
The WIFIA program is authorized to receive $25 million in FY16, which could be leveraged to provide approximately $250 million in loans for water infrastructure projects. As has been documented by advocates on and off Capitol Hill, the WIFIA pilot is intended to supplement the SRFs by delivering a new stream of low-cost financing for large-scale water and wastewater projects that are unlikely to meaningfully benefit from traditional SRF financing.
NACWA staff along with representatives from NACWA member agencies and a number of clean water sector organizations participated in a workshop this week hosted by the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technology Office (BETO). The workshop was designed to identify barriers to additional work in the waste to energy arena, specifically converting liquid ‘waste’ streams such as biosolids into transportation fuels, a new area for BETO. Discussions focused on both the technical and non-technical barriers, including funding, to more production of transportation fuels from methane produced by anaerobic digestion, as well as other methods for extracting the energy in wastewater, biosolids and other liquid feedstocks. NACWA continues to work on increasing interest at DOE in the opportunities for renewable energy production by clean water utilities.
NACWA met this week with key representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to discuss areas for further collaboration. The USGS runs many important water quality monitoring and analysis programs like the National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) that are essential for a consistent and comprehensive understanding of the health of the nation’s waters.
For example, USGS reported this week that national water use is at its lowest levels since 1970 – about 355 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) used as compared to 410 Bgal/day in 1970. This reduction is in part a result of drought and could bode well for increasing reliance on water reuse from the nation’s wastewater treatment plants.
USGS is trying to expand efforts to gain a more complete understanding of pollution sources and trends by monitoring more water bodies and increasing data collection of nutrients, groundwater, and emerging contaminants using rapidly improving technologies and real-time monitoring tools. Support for these efforts is critical because accurate water quality data is extremely important for setting effective and appropriate water quality standards.
NACWA wants to ensure that our membership is fully aware of the important work of USGS and to ensure, in the wake of the midterm elections, that they have the needed funding to conduct their research and analysis. NACWA also hopes to facilitate greater exchange between USGS and NACWA members through increased USGS participation in NACWA committee meetings and conferences.
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