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EPA official hears cities's woes.

City officials from both large and small communities told a senior EPA official that they are increasingly unable to deal with federal environmental mandates and that cities and towns are not well served by the federal agency.

The May 15 meeting, called by EPA Deputy Administrator F. Henry Habicht included officials from Columbus, Ohio; Sublette County, Wyo.; Lewiston, Maine; Rangeley, Colo., and the state of Texas. They met for about two hours with Habicht to discuss the cumulative impact of EPA rules and regulations on local governments. Most of the discussion focused on the financial impact of the various water-related programs administered by EPA including stormwater, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Significant underestimates by EPA of potential costs; the absence of prioritization; uniform, overprotective or unnecessary requirements applied nationally regardless of local circumstances; inadequate financial participation by the federal government in helping local governments comply with federal mandates; and the lack of consultation and/or involvement of local government officials in the development and implementation of environmental requirements are major problems, the city officials said.

In opening the meeting, Habicht said a cultural change was underway in EPA designed to make it more sensitive to local issues, more aware and understanding of the impacts of federal programs on local government, that would expand its concern for setting priorities based on risk and for involving stakeholders in decision-making and backing government commitments with action.

He indicated that the EPA was dealing with capacity problems experienced by local government through a major commitment by EPA to develop concrete delivery mechanisms that would involve developing facts, disseminating information, coming together to resolve problems and to make the case within EPA and before the Congress that it was important to look at timing and other expenditures at the local level when mandating action by local government. Habicht indicated that EPA was committed to integrating municipalities into its regulatory development process in order to accomplish these goals.

Both Columbus City Council President Cynthia Lazarus and Bruce Johnson, chief of staff to Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka, indicated that the city's projected cost to comply with existing environmental mandates between 1990 and 2000 will be $1.6 billion. In 1992, the average water and sewer bill in Columbus was $200 per year per family. In 2000, that figure is expected to be $850.

Johnson indicated that the EPA estimate for its cost to obtain an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit was $76,000. The bid price was $1.7 million, and its actual cost just to obtain the license was $1.5 million. Columbus officials believe that the EPA grossly underestimated the cost of NPDES permitting to local government.

Columbus officials want EPA decisions to be science-based with local factors considered in setting compliance timelines. In asking for changes in the way costly environmental mandates are imposed on local governments, Johnson said local governments are faced with increasing mandates fewer resources and substantially increased enforcement. He asked for relief in the form of more federal government participation in meeting the cost of infrastructure investments and risk-based priority setting--spend money first on things that really protect human health.

Robert Mulready, city administrator for Lewiston, noted that his city of approximately 39,000 population was expecting to spend approximately $40 million to treat stormwater, an expenditure that would yield virtually no positive impact on the receiving waters because of upstream industrial discharges. He urged EPA to relax, or at least consider local conditions in setting, compliance deadlines and to provide better assistance to local governments in helping them understand the complex requirements of the various statutes.

Mulready also asked Habicht, "what will you do with the information you've received today, when will you do it, and how will you communicate with us about what you are planning to do?"

Habicht suggested either a national, or a series of regional conferences to discuss the issues identified by local governments and consideration of an advisory group of local officials to focus on making the changes necessary to reduce the dysfunctional aspect of EPA's current administration of these programs. EPA, he said, would produce a proposal for significant action steps in these two areas by the end of June.
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Title Annotation:Environmental Protection Agency's F. Henry Habicht
Author:Young, Kenneth C.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 25, 1992
Words:704
Previous Article:Minnesota considers revamping environmental laws.
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