Federal Water Tap, February 10: Defense Department Watchdog Begins PFAS Investigation
Inspector general will assess the Defense Department’s response to toxic PFAS chemicals. The House approves lake and estuary legislation. Army Corps approves wetlands-for-sewage-treatment swap in Alaska. State Department officials discuss Central Asian hydropower initiative. The EPA’s survey of drinking water infrastructure funding needs will add new questions on lead service lines. And lastly, a House committee holds a hearing on the EPA’s proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule.
By the Numbers
2021: Year by which renewable electricity generation in the United States is expected to surpass that of coal-fired power. Renewable energy is defined as solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. Growth in the renewable sector, by and large, is forecasted to be in solar and wind. (Energy Information Administration)
Investigating the Defense Department’s PFAS Response
The Defense Department’s internal watchdog announced that it will begin an investigation this month into the department’s response to contamination from toxic PFAS chemicals.
The Office of the Inspector General will assess the extent to which the department has worked to identify contamination sources at its installations and clean them up.
The investigation will also look at the department’s public relations: whether it made an effort to identify people who were exposed and notify them of potential health risks.
The chemicals were widely used on military bases in firefighting foams.
In context: Fear and Fury in Michigan Town Where Air Force Contaminated Water
House Passes Water Bills
Lakes and estuaries were in the spotlight last week in the House chamber. Representatives voted in favor of several such bills.
- Reauthorizing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and increasing authorized funding from $300 million to $375 million in 2022. Thereafter there are annual increases until authorized funding reaches $475 million in 2026.
- Reauthorizing the National Estuary Program, and increasing authorized funding from $26.5 million to $50 million in 2022.
- Establishing the San Francisco Bay Restoration Program, with $25 million a year in authorized funding. The program would be housed within the EPA Region 9 office.
- Passing the Puget SOS Act, which would establish a Puget Sound recovery program within the EPA Region 10 office and requires a federal action plan. The program is authorized at $50 million a year.
- Reauthorizing the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Program.
- Reauthorizing the Chesapeake Bay Program, and increasing authorized funding from $40 million to $91 million in 2022.
Wetlands Tradeoff in Alaska
The Army Corps of Engineers’ Alaska office allowed an oil company to clear 288 acres of wetlands so that the company could build drilling pads and access roads, E&E News reports.
As compensation for the environmental damage, Oil Search was allowed to upgrade the boat ramp and sewage system in a nearby Alaska Native village.
A former Army Corps wetlands supervisor said that this sort of tradeoff is a worrying precedent at a time when mining companies have their sights on large copper and gold prospects in Alaska, E&E News reports.
Studies and Reports
Drinking Water Needs Survey To Ask About Lead Service Lines
Every few years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency surveys drinking water utilities to gauge the amount of funding they will need over the next two decades to maintain service.
The survey asks about transmission lines, storage, and treatment. For the first time, the 2020 edition will ask utilities specifically about the cost of replacing lead service lines. Congress required the change in a law that was passed two years ago.
The continued use of lead pipes in the country became a politically hot topic following the lead scandal in Flint, Michigan.
The last needs survey, published in 2018 but based on 2015 data, estimated that utilities needed to spend $472 billion over twenty years on capital costs. The survey is the basis for allocating federal infrastructure funding to the states, in accordance with their relative need.
On the Radar
On February 11, the House Energy and Commerce Committee discusses the EPA’s proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule. Witnesses include state regulators, drinking water utilities, and health advocates.
Water Legislation Markup
On February 12, the House Natural Resources Committee will vote on several water-related bills. Two involve tribal water rights settlements and two emphasize investment in water infrastructure.
U.S. Diplomats Highlight Central Asia Work
To facilitate economic growth in the region, the State Department is supporting a Central Asian electric grid. Critical to this initiative is the CASA-1000 project, a transmission line that will send hydroelectric power from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan.
U.S. diplomats discussed the role of hydropower in their Central Asia strategy at an event last week hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
“We’re hoping to build a Central Asia regional electricity market,” said Alice Wells, acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asia.
Budget Season Kicks Off
President Trump will reveal the White House’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal. Administration officials then begin their defense of the spending plan in front of Congress.
The Senate Finance Committee hosts Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, on February 12.
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.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton
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