Washington, D.C.-Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, together with Senators David Vitter (R-LA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Boozman (R-AR), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Jim Risch (R-ID), yesterday introduced The Small System Safe Drinking Water Act of 2011 (S. 999)-a bill that helps small water systems comply with Federal drinking water standards by requiring that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) utilize all the affordability provisions provided under the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments (SDWA), which are designed to help water systems in smaller communities come into compliance.
"One of my top priorities through my leadership role on the EPW Committee is to ensure that small towns in Oklahoma and across the nation have safe, affordable drinking water and that the laws are fair to small and rural communities," Senator Inhofe said. "Too often federal regulations come with a price tag that is unreasonable for small towns and cities with lower budgets. Forcing systems to raise rates beyond what their ratepayers can afford only causes more damage than good and can be especially harmful for low-income communities or areas facing economic challenges."
Support from Oklahomans for the Small System Safe Drinking Water Act
Steve Thompson, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality: "Federal requirements are overwhelming the financial capacity of small drinking water systems. Almost every small system enforcement action taken by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality is related to the difficulty those communities have in accessing sufficient funds to carry out the projects. Many of the communities struggle even after significant increases in rates to their citizens. I applaud Senator Inhofe's effort to insure that funding is available to meet the needs of our small communities and rural water districts."
Mark Mosley, City Manager, Wewoka: "As City Manager of Wewoka, I am encouraged by the legislation you are proposing that will provide funds for small towns under EPA and DEQ mandates. This would allow the City to use grants, funds and extra money to improve other infrastructure such as roads, bridges, parks and the overall quality of life of the small towns."
Martin Tucker, City Manager, Skiatook: "In these tough economic times, many Cities and Towns across the country are struggling to make ends meet. Local governments are tasked with providing most, if not all, of the emergency services for their residents along with a myriad of fundamental, basic services. Unfunded mandates and directives translate directly into a reduced level of service for our citizens. Legislation to curtail the burden of these mandates would offer direct benefits to those we represent."
Details about The Small System Safe Drinking Water Act of 2011
Specifically, this bill requires EPA to update its affordability criteria, which it admitted in 2006 is unfair to small systems. Currently, EPA assumes that families can afford water rates of 2.5 percent of their annual median household income, or $1,000 per household. For some families, paying $83 a month for water may not be a hardship but for so many more, it is nearly impossible. This bill guarantees that there is some flexibility inserted into the calculation that determines the ability of the truly disadvantaged to pay these costs-it will make sure small systems get the help they need to meet these requirements.
It provides EPA with practical steps to take to help small systems cope with drinking water rules by reauthorizing the technical assistance program and identifying barriers to new technologies. The bill creates a pilot program to demonstrate new technologies and approaches for systems of all sizes to comply with these complicated rules.
Most importantly this bill requires the federal government to pay for these unfunded mandates created by laws and regulations: In 1995, Congress passed the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act to ensure that the Federal government pays the costs incurred by state and local governments in complying with Federal laws. The bill ensures that EPA cannot take an enforcement action against a system serving less than 10,000 people, without first ensuring that it has sufficient funds to meet the requirements of the regulation.
Commitment to Rural Water Issues
Rural water issues are a top priority for Senator Inhofe. Since the 108th Congress, he has co-authored and cosponsored legislation that addresses unfunded clean water mandates by providing additional resources for small communities through the State Revolving Loan Funds. In addition to the Small Systems Safe Drinking Water Act, Senator Inhofe introduced the Small Water Systems Technical Assistance Bill in 2007, which reauthorizes the technical assistance provision originally provided in the 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. This bill would give small communities without sufficient resources access to the technical tools they need to protect their waters. Senator Inhofe also led the fight against the Clean Water Restoration Act-a bill that would have empowered the federal government to regulate practically every body of water in the country, no matter how small, and extended the scope and reach of federal water jurisdiction beyond anything that ever existed under the Clean Water Act.