Matt Dempsey (202) 224-9797

David Lungren (202) 224-5642

Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Full Committee Hearing entitled, “Protecting America’s Water Treatment Facilities.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010  2:30 pm

Thank you, Madam Chairman, for holding this oversight hearing on water security. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the steps that EPA and the states have taken since we passed the 2002 Bioterrorism Act. I know that many of our facilities are much safer as a result of our actions here, but there is still more that can be done. As I noted in our December drinking water oversight hearing, there is one thing that everyone in this room can agree on, that having clean, safe, affordable water is a national priority. 

My message has always been that chemical security and water security are issues of security, not environmental protection.  Yet, whenever we discuss these issues in this committee, we focus on “inherently safer technology,” or IST.  IST is an environmental and engineering concept not a security concept.  Environmental activists have been promoting the concept of IST for years, because it would allow them to eliminate the use of chemicals they don’t like. IST dates back more than a decade to when Greenpeace and other groups were seeking bans on chlorine – the chemical used to purify water that has been hailed by the CDC as one of the greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century. Only after 9/11 did environmental groups decide to play upon the fears of the nation and repackage IST as a panacea to all of our security problems.

I would like to share with you this excellent clarification of IST from Stephen Poorman at the Homeland Security hearing on chemical security in March. “[IST] is premised on the belief that, if a particular chemical process hazard can be reduced, the overall risk associated with that process will also be reduced. . . it is an elegant concept, but the reality is almost never that simple. A reduction in hazard will reduce overall risk if, and only if, that hazard is not displaced to another time or location, or result in the creation of some new hazard.” I think this is especially important to understand when it comes to water security.

Both the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and EPW have heard again and again from multiple security and chemical experts that IST should not be federally mandated, and I encourage my colleagues to revisit these hearings including the June 21, 2006 hearing that was focused entirely on the effectiveness of IST.

I was pleased to see the Homeland Security Committee this morning unanimously approve a reauthorization of the current CFAS program, without mandatory IST. Their willingness to find compromise and a bipartisan path forward is something I hope we can emulate in this committee. The current security bill before this committee, S. 3598, takes a vastly different, more controversial approach. I hope that we will take time and work in a bipartisan way to find a path forward on water security that would gain support from security experts and water utilities, not just environmental groups and unions, and have a chance of making a real difference in securing water facilities. Sen. Lautenberg, I know our staffs have worked together on other legislation, and I hope that we can work together to find a path forward here.

No matter what we do, security for water facilities must focus first on ensuring that utilities can effectively meet the many requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) and protect the health and the environment. Individual utilities know their water best, and by mandating IST, the federal government would make it impossible for facilities to decide for themselves what the best course of action is to meet the health and environmental mandates of the SDWA and CWA.

Nobody cares more about the security of their communities than the people who live there. We need to empower them to make the best decisions, not assume Washington knows best.

Finally, I know Chairman Boxer shares my desire to get S. 1005, the “Water Infrastructure Financing Act” on the floor.  I still believe the most effective way to improve our nation’s water facilities is by reauthorizing the State Revolving Loan Fund programs, both for drinking and waste water.  We cannot expect our communities to continue to provide safe and clean water if they do not have the resources to meet their infrastructure needs.