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February 6, 2015
NACWA Meets with Top White House Officials to Discuss Smarter Regulations
NACWA, along with representatives from a number of state organizations including the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Environmental Council of States (ECOS), met with the head of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Shaun Donovan, on Friday to discuss the Administration’s ongoing regulatory review efforts. Howard Shelanski, head of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which reviews all major regulations developed by EPA and other federal agencies, and Jerry Abramson, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, also participated in the roundtable discussion – the kickoff meeting of a new effort to accelerate the reform initiative. The regulatory review was initiated several years ago via Executive Order, but the Administration is hoping to intensify its efforts to cut wasteful and duplicative regulations over its final two years. While specific regulatory provisions were not the focus of the meeting, NACWA highlighted the importance of the federal and state governments working in partnership with their local and regional equivalents to prioritize investments – acknowledging EPA’s efforts to develop and implement the Integrated Planning Framework – and the need to better consider the financial capability of local governments to meet the growing list of regulatory requirements. These comments echoed the discussion that NACWA’s Board of Directors and Legislative and Regulatory Policy Committee engaged in this week in Charleston during NACWA’s Winter Conference. NACWA will remain engaged with OMB on the high-level policy discussion, but will also engage directly with EPA, which is responsible for reviewing its regulations and reporting on its progress to OMB.
On Monday, the Obama Administration released its FY 2016 Budget Request. Overall spending for EPA would increase by $460 million to $8.6 billion and spending levels on investments in water and wastewater infrastructure would be maintained near FY 2015 levels at $2.3 billion. The budget does, however, propose some shifts in this spending including a $333 million cut to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and a $279 million increase to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), dedicating $1.118 billion and $1.186 billion respectively to these programs. NACWA has learned that this shift is largely due to the fact that the DWSRF has not enjoyed the levels of funding that the CWSRF has, coupled with the concern over the events in Toledo and the need to better protect drinking water sources.
The Administration is also requesting $50 million for technical assistance, training, and other efforts to enhance the capacity of communities and states to plan and finance drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvements, of which $5 million would be used to administer the Water Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act (WIFIA). Geographic programs overall suffered cuts of $57.3 million as most programs faced lower funding requests with the Great Lakes facing the biggest cut of $50 million.
Funding requests for both Section 319 and Section 106 grants were increased by $5.7 million and $18.4 million respectively to $164,915,000 and $249,164,000. Of the funds set aside for Sec. 106 program, $18.5 million is to be used for collecting statistically valid water monitoring data and improve water monitoring programs — a move supported by NACWA.
The following provides a comparison of FY 2016 proposed discretionary spending levels for EPA's water programs to FY 2015 levels.
EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) denied a request for review on Feb. 4 of a municipal wastewater discharge permit that included satellite systems as co-permittees along with the utility owning the treatment plant. The ruling comes despite the fact that neither the satellite systems nor the treatment utility had requested – and in fact opposed – the co-permittee provisions.
The EAB’s decision in In Re Charles River Pollution Control District found that the satellite systems were part of the definition of a “publicly owned treatment works” (POTW) under the Clean Water Act (CWA), and EPA accordingly had the authority to include the satellites as part of the POTW permit. The EAB also determined that the satellites were not required to individually apply for inclusion in the permit, since the CWA’s “duty to apply” obligation was met when the POTW itself applied for the permit. The EAB reasoned that the information provided by the POTW in its own permit application was enough to waive the requirement for separate applications from the satellites.
NACWA submitted a brief in the case supporting member agency the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District to challenge the co-permittee provisions, arguing that inclusion of satellite systems in the permit against the wishes of a POTW is illegal under CWA. NACWA is disappointed with the EAB’s ruling and is concerned about various aspects of the decision. The Association will engage in discussions with impacted members from Region 1 to determine appropriate next steps. Additional analysis on the decision and more information on the case can be found on the Association’s Litigation Tracking webpage.
Republicans and Democrats are no closer to agreeing on the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS) after the lengthy joint House-Senate Hearing over the rule on Wednesday, Feb. 4. The hearing’s purpose was to examine WOTUS’s impacts on state and local governments.
At the hearing, EPA Administrator McCarthy explained that the purpose of the proposed rule is to “clarify the jurisdictional scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA), simplifying and improving the process for determining waters that are, and are not, covered by the Act”. Throughout the hearing, Administrator McCarthy and U.S. Army Corps Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy tried to clear up many misunderstandings and concerns regarding the proposed rule.
Administrator McCarthy repeatedly stated that all current exemptions would remain in place under the proposed rule and jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act is not expanded. She also stated that groundwater; green infrastructure; isolated ponds and puddles; artificially irrigated areas; and, water-filled depressions incidental to construction would not be jurisdictional under the final rule. She emphasized that the proposed rule would actually expand exemptions to include some features that currently require permits – a development supported by NACWA in its comments on the proposal.
Despite the efforts to clarify, many Republicans remain dissatisfied. Many lamented EPA’s lack of communication and collaboration with the states and pointed to the absence of trust between local stakeholders and the agency. Following the hearing, Rep. Bill Shuster, Chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and Sen. James Inhofe, Chair of the Environment & Public Works Committee, released a joint statement calling for the withdrawal of the WOTUS proposal arguing that it “would make it difficult to build anything” and that it would “cause greater confusion and increased costs”. Included here are a video recording of the hearing and all written testimony.
NACWA, this week, announced the release of Collaborating for Healthy Watersheds: How the Municipal & Agricultural Sectors Are Partnering to Improve Water Quality . The white paper was funded through the Targeted Action Fund (TAF) as a collaborative effort between NACWA, AGree, and the U.S. Water Alliance. The paper features partnership models between municipalities and farmers that can lead to progress on attaining water quality goals and reducing nutrient pollution in our nation’s surface waters. NACWA hopes that it will encourage more stakeholders to consider and adopt innovative collaborations to address their water quality challenges. See Member Update 15-02 for more information.
NACWA members gathered in Charleston this week for Leaving the Comfort Zone. . . Collaborating for Clean Water, the Association’s 2015 Winter Conference. The conference was highlighted by speakers and panelists who explored the need for new, innovative partnerships in an increasingly complex regulatory, legislative and financial landscape. Panels focused on new partnerships NACWA has developed with agricultural and manufacturing interests and efforts to explore a more coordinated strategy with environmental foundations, as well as with new federal and state agency partners. Much of the discussion continued to focus on the Water Resources Utility of the Future initiative and how it demands new partnerships with groups that focus on innovative financing, technology development, and resource recovery activities.
The attendees heard a riveting and entertaining keynote address from Alan Gregerman, President & Chief Innovation Officer of Venture Works, Inc., and the author of The Necessity of Strangers – The Intriguing Truth About Insight, Innovation, and Success. Gregerman offered ‘seven ideas for stepping out of your comfort zone and unlocking greater innovation and collaboration’ including creating a culture of greater curiosity, openness and collaboration as a way to push your best thinking in new directions.
Conference attendees also heard from former EPA Deputy Administrator and current President of the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions, Bob Perciasepe, about the increasingly connected world we live in where climate, energy and water policy must be considered intricately interconnected. Perciasepe called on NACWA’s members to play a larger advocacy role in EPA’s development of a national Clean Power Plan that can incentivize public clean water utilities to both conserve and produce energy. Current Acting EPA Deputy Administrator, Stanley Meiburg, also spoke at the conference and underscored the need for close collaboration between the Association, EPA and other federal agencies as we face enormous challenges and opportunities in the arenas of resiliency, affordability, innovative financing and new technologies. Meiburg outlined the role of EPA’s newly created Water Infrastructure & Resiliency Finance Center at EPA and its goal of advancing public-private partnerships as well as public-public partnerships in support of public infrastructure projects.
Many of NACWA’s committees also met in Charleston to discuss the growing array of technical regulatory challenges facing the clean water community. Many committee meetings included featured presentations including one from Bruce Roll, Director of Clean Water Services’ (OR) Watershed Management Department at the Water Quality Committee. The presentation, which focused on water quality trading and made a compelling case for collaborative watershed management, is echoed in this week’s blog on The Water Voice. A summary of the deliberations of all NACWA standing committees that met during the Winter Conference will be provided in an upcoming Member Update.
The Association’s Board of Directors met for a strategic discussion on several important issues, including how to deal with a growing array of regulatory requirements that are often outside the boundaries of typical notice and comment rulemaking; the potential risks and rewards of seeking several targeted changes to the Clean Water Act; and, how to best address the issue of affordability and increasing costs for decreasing water quality gains. Included in the Board’s action was approval of a Targeted Action Fund (TAF) project aimed at continuing NACWA’s work with other associations to address the problems caused by flushable wipes and other non-dispersible products. The project includes two components. The Flushability Guidelines Development component will provide for the development of new guidelines to ensure that wipes labeled “flushable” are safe for sewer systems, and a Product Stewardship Initiative will explore opportunities for the nonwoven fabrics industry to exert greater responsibility over downstream impacts of wipes through improved product labeling and public education.
NACWA was pleased to honor five individuals and eleven public agencies with its 2015 National Environmental Achievement Awards at a ceremony Monday evening in Charleston. The accomplishments and contributions of this year’s honorees demonstrated a clear commitment to collaboration, innovation, and dedication to enhanced water quality. A full list of award winners can be found in the Awards Section of the NACWA website.
A highlight of evening’s festivities was NACWA’s presentation of its inaugural Water Resources Utility of the Future Award. Presented to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for its 2035 Vision initiative. This award recognized the District’s bold, transformational leadership in managing resources, effectively partnering in local economic development, and engaging stakeholders – resulting in a combination of environmental, economic, and social benefits for the community.
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