WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, together with Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Barrasso (R-WY), David Vitter (R-LA), and James Risch (R-ID), today introduced the Small System Drinking Water Act of 2010, a bill to assist water systems in Oklahoma and throughout the country in complying with Federal drinking water standards, and require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to utilize all of its resources provided by the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments (SDWA).
"My goal is to ensure that small towns across the country have safe, affordable drinking water and that the laws are fair to small and rural communities," Inhofe said. "Today there are simply too many regulations coming out of Washington that come with a steep price tag for local communities. It is unreasonable to penalize and fine local communities because they cannot afford to pay for regulations we impose on them especially given all of the misguided spending coming out of Washington today. Forcing systems to raise rates beyond what their ratepayers can afford only causes more damage than good."
Inhofe's legislation has wide support across Oklahoma:
Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Thompson: "The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality is fully in support of Senator Inhofe's effort to provide small drinking water systems with the technical assistance necessary to meet the growing number of requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. As importantly, the burden on water rate payers in communities with a limited rate base is rapidly outpacing their financial capacity. We support Senator Inhofe's effort to require federal funding for both operational and infrastructure issues related to these requirements."
Piedmont Mayor Mike Fina: "Piedmont's water system has suffered greatly at the hand of federal regulation. We have been forced to shut down vital well-fields that provide a major source of our water supply. It has been extremely costly to our community to find alternative water sources funded on the backs of our citizens. Senator Inhofe's proposal would protect small communities from falling victim to increased federal regulation."
Martin Tucker, City Manager, Skiatook: "Unfunded mandates on the utility portion of municipal income undoubtedly cause the other functions of government to suffer. Legislation, such as this, would be a welcome relief in our efforts to balance the needs of the citizens with the ever increasing cost of providing basic services."
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.
State Rep. Ed Cannaday: "This is very helpful and addresses problems for many small rural communities dependent on rural water systems that are being stretched to meet new and expanding regulations on water quality. Porum is an example of this dilemma in that many people feel their water system is not doing their job but they are within the technology they have available. It has an undermining effect for those water systems that are working at their capacity. Many praise rural life but few make efforts to help those in that environment"
Through his leadership position on the EPW Committee, Senator Inhofe has made unfunded mandates a top priority. Since the 108th Congress, he has co-authored and cosponsored legislation to provide additional resources to communities through the State Revolving Loan Funds.
The Small Drinking Water Bill requires the federal government to live up to its obligations and require the EPA to use the tools it was given in the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments (SDWA). 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. There must be some flexibility inserted into the calculation that factors in the ability of the truly disadvantaged to pay these costs. Forcing systems to raise rates beyond what their ratepayers can afford only causes more damage than good.
The bill directs EPA to take additional factors into consideration when making this determination: These include ensuring that the affordability criteria are not more costly on a per-capita basis to a small water system than to a large water system. In EPA's most recent drinking water needs survey, Oklahoma identified a total of over $4.1 billion in drinking water needs over the next 20 years. $2.4 billion of that need is for community water systems that serve fewer than 10,000 people. The $4.1 billion does not include the total costs imposed on Oklahoma communities to meet federal clean water requirements, the new Groundwater rule, the DBP II rule or the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule. Oklahoma continues to have municipalities struggling with the 2002 arsenic rule. Many of our small systems are having difficulty with the Disinfection Byproducts (DBP) Stage I rule, and small systems who purchase water from other systems and did not have to test, treat or monitor their water must now comply with DBP II. EPA estimates that over the next 20 years, the entire country will need $52.0 billion dollars to come into compliance with existing, proposed or recently promulgated regulations.
The bill proposes a few simple steps to help systems comply with all these rules:
1. Reauthorizes the technical assistance program in the Safe Drinking Water Act. The DBP rules are very complex and involve a lot of monitoring and testing. If we are going to impose complicated requirements on systems, we need to provide them with help to implement those requirements.
2. The bill creates a pilot program to demonstrate new technologies and approaches for systems of all sizes to comply with these complicated rules.
3. It requires the EPA to convene a working group to examine the science behind the rules in order to compare new developments since each rule's publication. Section 1412(b)(4)(E) of the SDWA Amendments of 1996 authorizes the use of point of entry treatment, point of use treatment and package plants to economically meet the requirements of the Act. However, to date, these approaches are not widely used by small water systems. The bill directs the EPA to convene a working group to identify barriers to the use of these approaches. The EPA will then use the recommendations of the working group to draft a model guidance document that states can use to create their own programs.
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 is designed to ensure 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.