Federal Water Tap, May 30: EPA Moves to Postpone Power Plant Water Pollution Rule

The Rundown

The EPA will delay and review a rule designed to reduce power plant discharges of toxic metals into rivers and lakes. The EPA begins a science review to model how consuming lead in drinking water increases blood lead levels in children. Hydropower generation increased in 2016 because of more favorable water supply conditions in California and the Pacific Northwest. House members urge President Trump to make water central to peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Congressional researchers report on U.S. water laws and congressional oversight. And lastly, the EPA searches for new science advisers.

“As outlined in the Constitution, the Congress, not the executive branch, has the ‘power of the purse.’ My committee takes this responsibility very seriously. It is our job to analyze the request, go through each and every budget line, question every witness, and demand spending justifications on behalf of the taxpayers who are footing the bill. Only then can Congress put forward our own plan to fund the federal government, ensuring the wise investment of taxpayer dollars on important programs while trimming back or eliminating waste and duplication.” — Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), House Appropriations Committee chairman, on the Trump budget, which proposes deep cuts for many water programs, including elimination of Great Lakes restoration funding ($US 300 million) and rural water system grants ($US 498 million).

By the Numbers

7 percent: Increase in U.S. hydropower generation in 2016. The increase is due largely to more favorable water supply conditions in California and the Pacific Northwest. (Department of Energy)

News Briefs

EPA Postpones Water Pollution Rule
Bowing to energy companies and the small business lobby, the EPA moved to formally postpone a rule designed to reduce the discharge of arsenic, mercury, selenium, and other toxic metals from coal and natural gas power plants into rivers and lakes.

The rules were supposed to take effect on November 1, 2018.

This spring, a utility industry lobby and the Small Business Administration, arguing that the rule’s timetable was too onerous, petitioned the EPA to suspend the compliance deadlines and reconsider the rule. The EPA will now do that. It is taking comments on the length of the postponement.

“The postponement of compliance dates through this action is intended as a temporary, stopgap measure to prevent the unnecessary expenditure of resources until EPA completes reconsideration of the 2015 rule,” according to the Federal Register listing that announces the agency’s intention.

Regulatory Reform Reports Due
According to President Trump’s February 24 order to review federal regulations, agency task forces were supposed to submit preliminary reports within 90 days. The reports identify potential regulations to revise or rescind. The deadline passed on May 25. Spokespeople for the EPA and the Interior Department did not respond to Circle of Blue’s requests for copies of the reports.

Trump’s Budget
It was no surprise. President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposes taking a big axe to water and environmental programs. The EPA budget would be cut 31 percent. Regional watershed restoration programs would be eliminated as would rural water infrastructure grants.

Members of Congress have their own ideas about funding; their constituents actually appreciate many of these programs. But the president has set a very low bar.

House Members Urge Middle East Water Action
Six Republican and eight Democratic members of the House sent a letter to President Trump asking him to prioritize water in peace discussions between Israelis and Palestinians.

“As you work on issues related to Middle East peace, we urge you to make water a focal point of your conversations,” the letter states. “You have strong partners and allies within Congress on these efforts and we look forward to your response.”

Studies and Reports

CRS on Jurisdiction over Water Laws
Federal water law is a gumbo mixed by various congressional committees, court decisions, and executive branch agencies. A Congressional Research Service report on congressional jurisdiction over water resources points out the need for diligent oversight: “there can be a significant difference between what federal agencies are authorized to do and what they are actually doing, and no one committee in Congress oversees this dichotomy.”

The 63-page report identifies the congressional committee and legal authority that match each federal agency’s water activities. For instance: repairing damaged levees is the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is acting under the authority of the Flood Control Act of 1944 and is overseen by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Tables like that. For pages.

Lead Modeling
The EPA is beginning a scientific peer review of approaches to link the consumption of lead in drinking water to increases in blood lead levels in children under age 7. The scientific models could be used to develop a standard for taking action at individual households for lead risk under a revised Lead and Copper Rule, which is due in draft form this year. What that action might be has not been determined.

The EPA released the names of the eight peer reviewers. They are listed at this link.

Reservoirs and Toxic Cyanobacteria
Toxic cyanobacteria can grow in the water warms of small reservoirs. The U.S. Geological Survey reported on attempts by water managers in Columbus, Ohio, to change the timing and depth of releases from one of the city’s drinking water reservoirs in order to reduce the growth of cyanobacteria. The dam has outflow gates at two levels, the operation of which changes the mixture of water within the reservoir.

On the Radar

EPA Seeks Science Advisers
The EPA is accepting nominations for scientists to serve on the board that advises the Office of Research and Development. Nominations are due July 21.

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.