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Group: Revise Clean Water Act; Official cites costly demands.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - A coalition of wastewater utilities and communities, including the city of Worcester, is calling on the new Congress to consider amending or revising the Clean Water Act so it takes into account the cost to communities to comply with permit conditions.

The group is also urging Congress to include funding for water resource infrastructure projects - drinking water, wastewater and storm water - as part of the federal stimulus package it is considering. It contends that funding for such projects would generate a level of new jobs comparable to transportation and energy projects.

In a detailed report to members of the state's congressional delegation, the Massachusetts Coalition for Water Resources Stewardship said it strongly believes that a new paradigm is needed and urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider adopting an acceptable affordability criterion as part of its permitting process.

The group contends that all costs - capital, operational and maintenance - need to be considered to ensure that public funds are being spent prudently on projects that have a clear environmental benefit.

"The public's money, whether it comes from EPA and the federal treasury or the pockets of ratepayers through City Hall, needs to be spent judiciously," the coalition wrote in its report. "The public is tired of spending money when results are ephemeral. All parties must scrupulously ensure that the public's money is spent wisely."

The coalition, which represents municipalities and publicly owned wastewater treatment plants in Massachusetts, was formed in 2007 because its members were extremely concerned about the impacts of stringent Clean Water Act permit requirements and related costs on communities, which in many cases cannot afford the expense to comply with those permits.

Robert L. Moylan Jr., the city's commissioner of public works and parks and one of the leaders of the coalition, said the initiative was driven by "the never-ending onslaught of costly, onerous and often baseless demands being unilaterally imposed upon municipalities and their ratepayers" by federal and state regulatory agencies through Clean Water Act permitting.

"With hundreds of millions of dollars at risk, questionable scientific validity for permit conditions and little evidence of meaningful environmental benefits to be derived, communities and districts decided to unite and push for change," Mr. Moylan said.

Through the efforts of U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, coalition members have been meeting with federal and state environmental regulators during the past several months to discuss concerns and issues of all parties involved. Mr. Moylan said the meetings proved beneficial because they have opened and enhanced the lines of communication between the regulators and communities.

But, he added, while all parties were able to reach areas of agreement, there still remain areas of disagreement. He said the major disagreements involve the issues that are really at the heart of the matter - compliance costs and the science behind permit conditions and standards.

"One of the more daunting of these tasks is to amend the Clean Water Act," Mr. Moylan said. "It was recognized that the act itself is an impediment to progress and reform. While great environmental improvement has occurred as a result of the Clean Water Act, it may no longer be the appropriate tool for addressing today's water resources issues.

"Changing the Clean Water Act will take a national effort over many years, but failure to make statutory changes will ensure a continuation of financially and environmentally unsustainable dictates which will cripple ratepayers and communities," the commissioner added.

On the local level, Mr. Moylan underscored the need for the EPA to consider cost and affordability for communities in regards to mandates that will require $200 million worth of additional improvements to the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District sewer treatment plant, and the issuance of a draft storm water permit that city officials estimate will cost $1.2 billion to comply with.

"With the economy in shambles, unemployment rising dramatically and municipalities and businesses struggling to remain solvent, in November 2008 both EPA and DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) released draft Clean Water regulations designed to address storm water runoff from private properties with two to five acres or more of impervious surfaces," Mr. Moylan said.

"In short, these permits and regulations, if adopted, will add more cost burdens to businesses and local governments alike, with no financial assistance from Washington," he added. "Apparently, bureaucracies cannot control themselves no matter what may be happening in the world around them."
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 20, 2009
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