Clean Water Issues (5-4-06)
Two major pieces of legislation regulate the nation's waters: the
Clean Water Act (CWA) governs navigable waters including lakes, rivers,
aquifers, and coastal areas and the Safe Drisnking Water Act (SDWA)
governs the nation's public drinking water supply. The CWA was last
authorized in 1987, but most of the provisions of that bill expired
in 1990 and 1991. There is general agreement that the law has been
successful in greatly improving water quality throughout the nation,
but reauthorization of the comprehensive bill has been difficult.
Congress has continued to appropriate funds to implement the Act while
debating several issues, including the enforcement of Total Maximum
Daily Load (TMDL) standards, wetland preservation, local wastewater
treatment, and the contamination of many of the nation's aquifers
with MTBE, a popular gasoline oxygenate. The SDWA, originally passed
in Congress in 1974, authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) to set national drinking water standards to protect against
both naturally occurring and anthropogenic contaminants. EPA is currently
investigating several specific health risks including: arsenic, radon,
microbial contaminants, and the byproducts of drinking water disinfection.
On July 20, 2005, the Senate Committee on Environment
and Public Works approved the Water Infrastructure Financing Act (S.1400).
Originally introduced by Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), S.1400 amends
the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) and the Safe Drinking
Water Act to improve water and wastewater infrastructure. "S.
1400 begins to address some of our nations most difficult water
quality concerns by placing greater emphasis on watershed planning,
assistance for small and disadvantaged communities, and innovation
and technological advancement in the drinking water and clean water
fields," Chafee said.
The primary purpose of the bill is to reauthorize through
2010 the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds
(SRF) which provide funding for the creation and maintenance of water
infrastructure projects. This legislation would expand the fund to
allow SRF spending on source water protection projects; replacement
or rehabilitation of aging treatment, storage, or distribution facilities
of public water systems; and capital projects to upgrade the security
of public water systems. The bill also reauthorizes through 2010 the
FWPCA and amends the FWPCA to expand the list of projects eligible
for water pollution control assistance and streamline administration
for smaller projects. It also sets aside up to $1 million for conducting
water pollution needs surveys and establishes a grant program for
watershed restoration projects. A final provision in the legislation
directs the USGS to conduct an assessment of water resources every
two years; coordinate federal and state agencies to develop and publish
a list of water resource research priorities; and develop an effective
information delivery system to communicate information on water resources.
The act is now ready for consideration by the Senate.
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, commonly known as
the Clean Water Act (CWA; PL 92-500), aims to restore and maintain
the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters.
The Act contains provisions to control pollutant discharge and the
dumping of dredged or fill material into waterways, as well as provisions
for the authorization of federal financial assistance to municipal
wastewater treatment plants, state non-point and point source pollution
clean-up programs, and the National Estuaries Program. Since the CWA
was last reauthorized as the Clean Water Act of 1987 (PL 100-4), many
of its programs have expired. The capacity for states and localities
to receive federal funding for clean water projects lapsed in 1991.
The authorization for grants for State Revolving Funds (SRF) expired
in 1994. Programs instated under the CWA continue to be funded in
appropriations bills while Congress attempts to reauthorize the comprehensive
bill. Reauthorization is made difficult by the many contentious issues
dealt with in the bill -- wetland preservation measures, use of MTBE,
and point source and non-point source pollution regulations including
TMDL. A TMDL is a calculation of how much of a particular substance
a body of water can assimilate and still improve and eventually come
into compliance with water quality standards. The standards are based
on monitoring and modeling of pollution sources. The EPA's TMDL rules
and proposals have become highly controversial, meeting resistance
from agriculture, forestry, and industry groups due to potential negative
economic and environmental impacts as well as the lack of resources
to implement the proposed programs.
On June 21, 2003, a federal appeals court upheld the Environmental
Protection Agency's (EPA) standard for arsenic levels in drinking water, rejecting
a legal challenge brought by the state of Nebraska, the Competitive Enterprise
Institute, and several municipal water districts. The standard was lowered from
50 to 10 parts per billion (ppb) under the Clinton Administration, and survived
a suspension by the Bush Administration and critical review by the National Academy
of Sciences. The Court rejected these arguments chiefly on the procedural grounds
that the petitioners did not first present their objections directly to EPA. Plaintiff
attorneys and other groups watching the case noted that the ruling leaves open
the possibility that intrastate water systems could be excluded from Safe Drinking
Water Act protections in the future, and that other EPA regulations could be successfully
challenged. These parties predicted that the beginning of EPA enforcement of the
arsenic standard in 2006 will provide another opportunity to contest the rule.
On June 3, 2003, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public
Works placed S. 791 on the Senate Legislative Calendar. The bill would
have banned MTBE and authorized $200 million for remediation of MTBE
and other ether additive contamination. On May 1, 2003, the Senate
passed S. 195, which was aimed at promoting cleanup of underground
storage tank leaks. The bill also authorized the appropriation of
$125 million from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust
Fund for MTBE remediation efforts.
For additional information on water policy issues in the 109th Congress,
see AGI's Wetlands
and Coastal Resources Policy, Water
Resources, and Great
Lakes and Other Watersheds pages.
Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, E&E News, Greenwire,
Thomas website, Press Releases for Senator Chafee, and hearing testimony.
Contributed by David Millar, 2004AGI/AAPG Fall Intern, and Jenny
Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's Clean
Water Issues for the 108th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on May 4, 2006.