Letter from Resident Commissioner Romero-Barcelo

Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-5401
July 6, 1998

Hon. John Chafee, Chairman
Committee on Environment and Public Works, SD-410
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Chafee: I write you today, as the sole representative of the 3.8 million disenfranchised U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico to propose an amendment to Section 301 (h) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act that would allow the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority ("PRASA") to apply for a waiver from certain wastewater treatment requirements affecting its Mayaguez facility.

Under existing law the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") is not allowed to accept new applications for waivers from secondary treatment requirements. The proposal does not alter the rigorous criteria for issuing a waiver nor does it override the judgement of EPA. The proposal before your committee reflects the goal of both Congress and the Administration to find innovative, alternative and less costly ways to apply existing statutes without compromising the environmental objectives underlying existing law.

Many scientists and experts agree that plans to construct deep ocean outfalls at locations can provide the best environmental and economic alternative for wastewater treatment. The plans would not only preserve but would even improve the coastal environments where these discharges occur.

PRASA proposes the construction of a deep ocean outfall that would release primary treated wastewater miles from shore at a depth and location that will have no adverse impact on human and marine life.

This alternative would improve the coral environment where the current outfall discharges and would also save the Government of Puerto Rico about $65 million over 20 years that can be spent to address other water supply and infrastructure problems affecting the island.

EPA and the Department of Justice have agreed to enter into a Consent Order with PRASA that provides PRASA the opportunity to apply for the construction of a deep water ocean outfall, which would be an alternative to a secondary treatment plant. However, this alternative cannot even be considered without this legislation; and under the terms of the Consent Order, this alternative can only be considered if this legislation is enacted by August 1, 1998.

If this legislation is enacted, EPA will have a choice as to whether or not to allow the alternative measure. If it is not enacted, there will be no choice, regardless of the environmental or economic consequences. This is what this proposal will accomplish. It is a sound approach to environmental regulations.

It is imperative to stress the fact that this is only a limited and technical amendment that allows PRASA to refile under section 301(h). PRASA would be required by EPA to meet the same stringent legal and scientific tests, conduct the same environmental studies and implement the same monitoring program applicable to existing recipients of section 301(h) waivers. This amendment would not assure that a waiver would be granted; that decision would remain entirely within EPA's discretion.

EPA will be the ultimate decision maker, and will determine if PRASA's proposed alternative is feasible and environmentally beneficial. If, after the review, that alternative is acceptable, then PRASA will immediately begin construction of the facility, with the discharge location approved by the EPA. If EPA finds the alternative unacceptable, then PRASA will proceed with the construction of the secondary treatment plant.

Puerto Rico is not asking for preferential treatment. Rather, we are only requesting that EPA balance the cost of constructing a secondary treatment facility against the environmental, economic and social benefits of constructing an outfall at a deep water location.

There are precedents for such limited amendment to section 301(h), most recently for San Diego during the 103th Congress. In the instance of San Diego legislation was enacted to allow EPA to consider a section 301 (h) waiver application proposing a similar alternative to secondary treatment. I believe we deserve the same opportunity to implement an alternative and seek a section 301(h) waiver.

My environmental record speaks for itself. I would not support any measure that I believe compromises our resources or the environment of the island. I urge my colleagues to consider this proposal and its common sense approach. The proposal is limited and targeted, provides for an efficient process, does not modify existing standards and would be implemented by EPA only if environmental and economic objectives are accomplished. I am hopeful that it will receive favorable action in the Senate before the August Is' deadline.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Ruben Padron of my staff at (202) 225-5046.


Carlos Romero-Barcelo