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Senators offer help with drinking water mandate.

The Safe Dru&g Water Act Amendments of 1995 (no bill number yet), introduced by Sens. Kempthorne (R-Ida.), Chafee (R- R.I.), Keffey (D-Neb.), Baucus (D-Mont.), Reid (D-Nev.), and others(*) late last week wowd substantially revise current law provisions which pose major problems for municipal drinking water suppliers. It is the first attempt in the Senate to address a specific unfunded federal mandate by providing new resources to state and local governments and by amending the current process for setting drinking water standards that would authorize EPA to take benefits and costs into consideration, as well as to balance competing health risks, in developing new requirements for local drinking water supply systems.

In addition, the bill would establish more realistic time frames for municipal compliance with new requirements, provide states with the flexibility to tailor monitoring requirements to contaminants of concern within the states and target assistance to small and disadvantaged communities to enhance their ability to comply with the law's requirements. The Kempthorne bill would also repeal the current requirement that EPA regulate 25 new contaminants every three years.

The measure would also significantly enhance funding authorizations for health effects research - initially targeting $10 million annually to cryptosporidium, arsernic and the effects of contaminants on sensitive individuals - which should assure that any future regulations will be based on sound science and address real public health concerns. Further, the measure would for the first time create a voluntary source water protection program and require states to develop and implement operator training and certification programs.

Drinking Water Standards

Of greatest significance to municipalities are the proposed changes in both the contaminant selection and standard setting processes.

Contaminant Selection: In selecting contaminants for future regulation, EPA would be required to publish and develop a research plan for high priority contaminants not currently regulated. The research plan would involve the acquisition of information on both the health effects of these contaminants as well as their prevalence in sources of drinking water and would serve as the basis for selecting which currently unregulated contaminants would be subject to regulation in the future. EPA would be required to make a regulatory decision on at least 5 contaminants every 5 years. Such decisions could be: not to regulate the contaminant; that there is insufficient information to make a decision; or to regulate a contaminant.

Standard Setting: In regulating new contaminants, EPA would be required to conduct a benefit/cost analysis and to determine the risk trade-offs (strategies used to reduce the risk of some contaminants may actually increase the risks of other contaminants found in drinking water) before any regulations are proposed. For any potential regulation expected to cost more than $75 million (nationwide), EPA is required to seek public comment prior to proposing a regulation.

EPA may set less stringent standards for specific contaminants if the benefit of a more stringent standard does not justify the costs to systems required to comply. This flexibility would not apply to disinfectants/disinfection by-products or to cryptosporidium.

EPA is also authorized to use other than zero-risk in setting standards for carcinogens if such a standard is unlikely to increase the cancer risk and is set with an adequate margin of safety.

EPA review of existing drinking water standards would be required every six years rather than the current 3 year interval. Existing standards may only be made less stringent if new science demonstrates comparable protection of health with an adjusted standard.

The statute also would specifically address arsenic, radon, sulphates and disinfection of underground sources of drinking water. The arsenic provisions require further study on the carcinogenicity of low levels of arsenic in drinking water with subsequent revision of the standard delayed until 2001. For Radon, the measure sets a standard of 3000 picocuries per liter. Sulphates may be addressed through public education and alternative drinking water supplies (bottled water). Disinfection of groundwater will be delayed until promulgation of the second disinfectant/disinfection by-products rule on the assumption that additional research will assist in determining whether and which groundwater supplies should be disinfected.

The Kempthorne/Chafee drinking water amendments would authorize a new $9.6 billion (covering FY 1994 through FY 2003) drinking water revolving loan program for construction activities related to drinking Water purposes. The new Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) would include loan subsidies for disadvantaged communities (to be defined by the State) and set aside funds to enhance State drinking water activities (such as technical assistance to drinking water suppliers).

State Revolving Loan Fund

The measure establishes a new $9.6 billion Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund which authorizes $1 billion annually through 2003 and authorizes appropriation of funds requested by the Administration for fiscal years 1994, 1995 and 1996 (the pending FY 1996 appropriations measure makes $500 million available contingent upon a Drinking Water Act reauthorization by April 30, 1996). States administering the drinking water program (all but Wyoming) would be required to provide a 20 percent match.

In addition to loans to drinking water systems (both publicly and privately owned community water systems), up to 30 percent of the available funds could be used for loan subsidies or loan forgiveness to disadvantaged communities. "Disadvantaged community" will be defined by the individual states.

States would be also authorized to use an amount from the SRF equal to their federal Public Water System Supervision Grants for state administration of the drinking water program, plus an additional 4 percent for administration of the SRF. In addition, 2 percent or $300,000 annually, whichever is greater, would be available to provide technical assistance to small communities and $10 million annually would be set aside for health effects research.

Up to 50 percent of the DWSRF may be transferred to the Clean Water SRF and an amount equal to 50 percent of the DWSRF may be transferred from the Clean Water SRF to the DWSRF.

Compliance Time Frames

Current law requires compliance with new drinking water standards within 18 months of promulgation. The Kempthorne/Chafee measure would extend the compliance period to three years with an additional two year available, at the discretion of the EPA Administrator for all systems or the State for individual systems, if necessary for capital construction.

Exploring Flexibility

Except for pathogens, States would be authorized to develop their own monitoring requirements that may be less stringent than federal requirements so long as State standards are adequate to ensure compliance and enforcement. States may exercise this flexibility only after the first cycle of monitoring under federal regulations. Where a contaminant has been detected at levels that are not consistently and reliably below federal standards, it must be conducted as frequently as required by federal regulations.

Source Water Protection

Protection of source water "to avoid the expense of treating contaminated water has not been a major part" of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Kempthorne/Chafee bill would establish a program requiring States, over the next five years, to delineate source water protection areas for each public water system and to conduct "vulnerability assessments" for priority source water areas.

States have the discretion to "identify voluntary, incentive-based source protection measures to protect drinking water from contamination and to direct federal and state financial and technical assistance to support those measures."

Local governments and public water suppliers may petition the state (loans of up to 10 percent of the DWSRF) for assistance in carrying out such a voluntary program.

Variances

For other than standards issued prior to 1986 or pathogens, variances from compliance with drinking water regulations are simplified for systems 10,000 or fewer persons so long as protection of public health is ensured. The variance allows the use of the best available technology that is affordable for these systems.

Enforcement

The measure would require States to adopt administrative penalties of at least $1,000 per violation. In addition, the proposal would raise the maximum amount for administrative penalties that can be imposed by EPA from the current $5000 to $25,000 per violation.

Lead Plumbing,

Pipes and Pumps

Within two years of enactment, the measure would ban the sale of plumbing fixtures, fittings and pipes that do not meet, voluntary lead leaching standards.

(*) other co-sponsors, as The Weekly went to press, include: Sens. John Warner (R-Va.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Bob Smith (R-N.H.), Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.), Al Simpson (R-Wyo.) Conrad Burns (R-Mt.), Larry Craig (R-Ida.), and Pete Domenici (R-NM), James Exon (D-Neb.), Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Robert Dole (R-Kans.), and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
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Author:Kocheisen, Carol
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 16, 1995
Words:1420
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