Federal Water Tap, September 26: Dispute Over Flint Aid Obstructs Budget Bill

The Rundown

A measure to fund the government through December does not include aid for Flint. A power company files for permits to take down four Klamath River dams. President Obama asks that climate change be incorporated into national security decisions. The EPA calls on states to do more to address nutrient pollution, while the agency also begins a study of nutrient removal at wastewater treatment plants. A U.S. civil rights commission criticizes the EPA on coal ash. The Department of Energy begins an environmental review of a Lake Erie wind farm. The new federal fiscal year on October 1 brings a new set of EPA enforcement priorities, most of which involve water. And lastly, once again the world broke a monthly heat record.

“To see the continuing resolution come to the floor with help for Louisiana and not for the families of Flint is outrageous. It is just outrageous. I will do everything in my power to make sure this does not happen. We are not — we are not, I am not — going to support an effort that says to the people of Flint: You don’t count. Your child doesn’t count.” — Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), speaking on the Senate floor in reaction to a “continuing resolution” to fund the federal government through December 9. The resolution has $US 500 million for those in Louisiana harmed by last month’s flooding. But it does not contain the $US 220 million that many Democratic lawmakers are seeking for Flint.

By the Numbers

20 megawatts: Capacity of Project Icebreaker, a wind power project proposed for the waters of Lake Erie. The Department of Energy is beginning an environmental review of the project, which would be located some eight miles offshore of Cleveland. Public comments on what the review should address are due October 21. Send them to ProjectIcebreaker@ee.doe.gov with EA-2045 in the subject line. (Department of Energy)

250: At least this many state health advisories for toxic algae have been issued this year, as of mid-August. (EPA)

16: Consecutive months with a new global temperature record. The length of this hot streak is also a record. (NOAA)

News Briefs

Flint Funding a Factor in Government Budget Battle
Aid to rebuild the water system in Flint, Michigan, is a new wedge in the federal budget debate. Democrats want $US 220 million for Flint in a “continuing resolution” that will keep the federal government operating through December 9. Republicans say that the Flint aid can be negotiated in a separate water resources bill that already passed the Senate. The House version of that water bill authorizes half the spending that the Senate approved and does not provide money for Flint. It will be discussed on Tuesday.

The Senate will reconvene this afternoon to debate the continuing resolution, and it will vote on the measure on Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. Eastern. As they say, stay tuned.

Klamath Dam Removal
The long journey to bring down four dams on the Klamath River, a watershed shared by California and Oregon, hit a new milestone last week when the owner of the dams began a federal permitting process for their removal. The Klamath dam removal would be the largest in U.S. history.

The process is convoluted. Under an agreement signed in April by tribal, state, federal, and private sector partners, PacifiCorp, the dam owner, will transfer legal responsibility to a third-party, called the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. The KRRC is responsible for writing the decommissioning plan.

Two filings were made on Friday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees these matters. One asks FERC to approve removing the dams. The other requests the transfer of legal ownership to KRRC. Both documents will be posted at the bottom of this page, when available.

The timeline from here is of uncertain length. According to the April agreement, the dams are supposed to come down beginning in 2020. But, according to Bob Gravely, PacifiCorp spokesman, the ultimate schedule is up to FERC.

“It’s our expectation that FERC will want to see and be comfortable with the KRRC’s detailed decommissioning and removal plans before approving the transfer,” Gravely told Circle of Blue. “This could take a few years.”

Studies and Reports

Nutrient Pollution Census
The EPA will conduct a national census of nutrient pollution from wastewater treatment plants. Data from the census will help the agency design a study to assess how effective facilities are at removing nitrogen and phosphorus. Participation in the census, which will include roughly 20,000 facilities, is mandatory. The full study will take four to five years to complete.

EPA Wants More State Attention on Nutrient Pollution
In a memo to state environmental regulators and water directors, the EPA’s top water official called nutrient pollution “one of the greatest challenges” to the country’s water and a “growing threat” for human health and the economy.

Joel Beauvais, deputy assistant administrator for water, called for greater attention at the state level to nutrient pollution and for more collaborative programs to keep plant vitamins from getting into the water.

Environmental Justice Panel Fillets EPA Coal Ash Policy
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that federal authorities do not do enough to protect poor and minority communities from coal ash pollution, including in groundwater used for drinking.

The commission chair rebuked the EPA for a failure of duty.

“I’m not certain if the Environmental Protection Agency is incompetent or indifferent when it comes to requiring environmental justice from polluters of minority communities, but whatever the case, the result is the same,” wrote Martin Castro. “The EPA has failed miserably in its mandate to protect communities of color from environmental hazards.”

To fulfill environmental justice obligations, the commission recommends that the EPA take a number of actions: regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, identify waste ponds near poor and minority communities and test drinking water wells for contamination.

Obama, Climate Change, and National Security
In the waning months of his administration, President Obama is attempting to extend his climate legacy. In a memo, the president ordered 19 federal agencies to form a working group on climate change and national security. The working group will issue recommendations that the agencies must then turn into plans. Plans for what? For addressing climate change and national security in their respective domains, be they conflict, investment, or health.

On the Radar

EPA Resets Top Enforcement Priorities
On October 1, the EPA will usher in a new roster of enforcement initiatives. These are target areas for agency inspections and fines. The eight initiatives include water pollution from animal waste, stormwater and sewage, industrial chemicals, and energy development.

EPA Webinar on Drinking Water Contaminant
Perfluorinated chemicals, a class of compounds that includes nonstick sprays and firefighting foams, are drawing attention. Towns and households near industrial facilities are finding the chemicals in groundwater, and military bases are being sued for contamination.

The EPA is hosting a webinar on September 27 to discuss how to test for and remove perfluorinated compounds. The webinar is free. Register at the link above.

EPA Advisory Committees Discuss Agency’s Drinking Water Plan
On October 7, committees that advise the EPA on issues affecting local governments and small communities will hold a public teleconference. The committees will discuss their recommendations for the national drinking water plan that the EPA says it will release by the end of the year.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.