Friday, November 30, 2012

Critical Infrastructure: Possible EPA Grants To Protect Water Systems From Climate Change

Cardin Seeks EPA Grants To Protect Water Systems From Climate Change

Posted: November 19, 2012
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Senate subcommittee overseeing EPA's water program, is seeking to create a new, $250 million EPA grant program to help strengthen wastewater and drinking water systems from threats posed by the effects of climate change, a growing focus since Hurricane Sandy damaged systems in the Northeast.

The senator Nov. 14 submitted an amendment to S. 3525, a bill intended to authorize hunting and fishing programs, to allow EPA to provide grants to update municipal water systems to withstand changes in hydrological flows caused by climate change, the latest in a slew of efforts by Democratic lawmakers to gain more funding for water infrastructure.

The measure appears likely to gain support from lawmakers whose states were hit by the storm. For example, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) told a Nov. 15 Senate environment committee hearing on legislation authorizing Army Corps of Engineers projects that there is a need for such funding given the effects of the recent storm.
"During Sandy, we also saw outdated water infrastructure lead to two water treatment facilities breaking down, with millions of gallons of sewage leaking into Newark Bay as a result. This shouldn't happen. There's no excuse not to have modernized water infrastructure," he said.

S. 3525, which was introduced Sept. 10 by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), seeks to require that not less than 1.5 percent of land put aside each year under the Land And Water Conservation Fund be made available for recreational access such as hunting and fishing and calls for extending wetlands conservation project funding among other things.

Although the bill addresses several GOP priorities, such as limiting lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle from regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the bill currently lacks Republican sponsors. The bill is slated for a floor vote Nov. 26.

Cardin's amendment seeks to create a "'Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Program," which will require EPA to issue grants totaling $50 million for each year from 2013 through 2017 "for the purpose of increasing the resiliency or adaptability of the water systems to any ongoing or forecasted chances (based on the best available research and data) to the hydrological conditions of a region of the United States."

Entities eligible to seek the grants include community water treatment works, water systems, storage and transport systems and floodwater runoff management infrastructure.

The amendment seeks to set aside funds "exclusively to assist in the planning, design, construction, implementation, operation, or maintenance" of projects that address water conservation, efficiency, enhance watershed management, support the adoption of advanced water treatment technologies, modify or replace existing systems and "not further exacerbate stresses on ecosystems or cause redirected impacts by degrading water quality or increasing net greenhouse gas emissions."
The funding can also be used for flood mitigation measures, including modifying levies and preventing development in floodplains. Priority for grants will be given to those systems that are at the most "immediate risk of facing significant negative impacts due to changing hydrologic conditions." Cardin, who chairs the senate environment committee's water panel, has long championed water infrastructure needs, including the need for re-authorization of EPA's State Revolving Fund grant program.
Senators' Amendments
In addition to Cardin's amendment, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) is offering an amendment seeking a biennial progress report from EPA on the implementation of the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan 2008 in the Gulf of Mexico.

The amendment calls for the reports to "assess the progress made toward nutrient load reductions, the response of the hypoxic zone and water quality throughout the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin, and the economic and social effects." Data in the reports could be used to "recommend appropriate action continue to implement or, if necessary, revise the strategy set forth in the Gulf Hypoxia Plan 2008."

The plan, enacted in June 2008, seeks to address excess nutrient runoff from 12 states in the Mississippi River watershed, including a goal of reducing "the 5-year running average of the areal extent of the hypoxic zone to less than 5,000 square kilometers by 2015," although the plan acknowledges reaching the goal is likely impossible.

Meanwhile, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT) is seeking to use the bill to require EPA to do an economic impact analysis of a revised national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter, particularly as it effects the agricultural sector -- granting the agency a year reprieve from finalizing the NAAQS to complete the review. And the senator has submitted language that would amend the bill to include a prohibition of the regulation of green house gasses under the Clean Air Act, the authority EPA has pointed to in its green house gas reduction efforts.

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