American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Safe Drinking Water Act Update: 12-19-96

The Safe Drinking Water Act reauthorization effort is one of the few environmental success stories of the 104th Congress. After the Senate and House passed a conference report on August 2, 1996, the bill became PL 104-182 when it was signed by President Clinton on August 6, 1996. The law overhauls the act's standard-setting process, establishes a funding mechanism to help states improve their drinking water systems, and grants states more flexibility to meet federal regulations.

The Senate version, S. 1316, passed unanimously back in November 1995. When the Senate passed its bill last year, the House was considering very different legislation, and a conference battle was expected. Instead, the House worked to forge a bipartisan compromise in H.R. 3604 that is much closer to the Senate bill and which won the support of the Administration. Although EPA Administrator had described the S. 1316 as an "acceptable framework" for revising the Act, she wrote to Commerce Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Virginia) stating that the House bill makes a number of "essential" improvements over S. 1316 in the areas of sourcewater protection, small system assistance, operator certification and capacity development. An overview of S. 1316, prepared last December, follows:

S. 1316 is almost unique among environmental statutes up for reauthorization in that it enjoys broad support from both Democrats and Republicans. It was introduced in mid-September by Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID), who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Drinking Water, Fisheries, and Wildlife. The bill was approved by the full committee 16-0 in late October and came to the Senate floor on November 29, where it was amended and passed 99-0. The bill is co-sponsored by both Sen. John Chafee (R-RI) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the Environment committee chairman and ranking member, respectively. Committee member Joe Lieberman (D-CT) lauded Kempthorne for breaking the "environmental gridlock" on this issue. EPA Administrator Carol Browner called the bill an "acceptable framework" for revising the existing Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The bill has been criticized by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For those who do not wish to read the entire 150-page bill text as reported out of committee, the following is a synopsis of major provisions:

The bill's major innovations are in moving greater responsibility to the states, setting up a state revolving fund (SRF) system, up to one-third of which can be transferred between this system and a similar SRF structure under the Clean Water Act, depending on state priorities. The SRF is funded at $1 billion for each of fiscal years 1996 to 2003. This authorization level was criticized as unrealistic by Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for these funds. He indicated that the allocation is not likely to rise above the $500 million currently approved in the Senate's FY1996 VA/HUD/Independent Agencies bill.

S. 1316 repeals the current requirement that EPA promulgate standards for 25 additional contaminants every three years. Under S. 1316, new standards must undergo a cost-benefit analysis before promulgation, and current standards are subject to a rewrite if EPA determines that costs outweigh benefits. The "zero risk" standard would be replaced with a higher standard for maximum contaminant levels of probable human carcinogens. Regulated contaminants are subject to review to determine whether the standards for them are still necessary.

States would have more latitude in monitoring as long as they ensure compliance with federal standards. States may also provide small system variances for those systems serving less than 10,000 people. States may use up to 10 percent of their SRF funds to encourage voluntary source water quality protection partnerships with public water systems, local governments, and private companies. Local systems would be given up to three years to comply with new federal standards, double the time currently allowed.

Other provisions include the establishment of a priority list of unregulated contaminants and require that EPA promulgate rules on enhanced surface water treatment incorporating standards for cryptosporidium and a new 3000 picocuries per liter radon standard. EPA is also directed to conduct research on arsenic and on groups that may experience greater adverse health effects from drinking water contaminants than the general population.

(submitted by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs)

(Source: Energy and Environment Study Institute Weekly Bulletin)

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated December 19, 1996 by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs

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