Federal Water Tap, June 1: EPA Will Revise Water Permitting Tied to Pipelines, Fuel Export

The Rundown

The EPA says it will revise Trump-era changes to Clean Water Act permitting that centered on energy infrastructure. Senate Republicans increase water spending in their infrastructure counteroffer. The House Natural Resources Committee gets an update on drought conditions in the western states. The Bureau of Reclamation cuts Central Valley Project water allocations in California. Defense Department officials outline PFAS cleanup costs at U.S. military bases. The EPA and its Mexican counterpart agree that water quality is a top priority for the border region. The NIH seeks information on an unregulated drinking water contaminant research program. And lastly, the EPA announces virtual community roundtables to discuss potential changes to federal rules for lead in drinking water.

“For the long term, it’s important in the Klamath basin that leaders in upstream and downstream communities come together to find a path forward that breaks the status quo of constant litigation, risk and uncertainty over water that plagues all sides year after year.” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), speaking at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on drought in the western states. The Klamath basin is desperately dry. In the short term, Huffman said that local, state, and federal financial aid would be needed in the Klamath to help tribes whose fisheries are closed and farmers whose fields are going unplanted. The basin has been in this position before. A basin-wide water agreement fell apart in 2015 when Congress failed to approve it.

In context: Landmark Klamath Basin Water Agreement Is on Verge of Collapse

By the Numbers

10: Number of community roundtable discussions that the EPA will hold to discuss potential changes to federal rules for lead in drinking water. The virtual discussions will begin in June and will be livestreamed.

$2.1 billion: The Defense Department’s preliminary estimate of the cost of cleaning up PFAS contamination at U.S. military bases. Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for environment and energy resilience testified to that at a House Appropriations hearing. Kidd said the cost estimates will grow as more assessments are completed. As of March 31, 2021, the department had identified 698 installations where PFAS were used or potentially released and completed site assessments at 129. “Based on what we know today, with known technologies, frankly it will be years before we fully define the scope of the problem…and after that, probably decades before cleanup is complete,” Kidd said.

$11.2 billion: President Biden’s 2022 proposed budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a 21 percent increase over the current level. The spending plan would lift agency staffing to the highest levels since 2017.

News Briefs

Infrastructure Talks Continue
Senate Republicans increased water spending in their $928 billion infrastructure counteroffer.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said that the proposal focuses on “core, physical” assets that move people, goods, and ideas, nixing the social infrastructure like child care facilities and health care that is in President Biden’s plan.

The Republican version includes $72 billion for water and sewer systems, double the initial offer. It adds $22 billion for water storage in the western states.

Republicans argued that money from pandemic response bills that has not yet been spent could be redirected to infrastructure and further narrow the gap with the White House’s proposal.

In context: Congress’s Stealth Water Infrastructure Deal

EPA Signals Intent to Give States More Say in Energy Infrastructure Permitting
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that the agency will revise Trump-era changes to Clean Water Act permitting that centered on fossil fuel infrastructure.

The previous administration, saying that states like New York were using the act to hold pipeline and fuel export projects “hostage,” narrowed the scope of Section 401, which gives states the power to veto or add conditions projects based on water quality concerns.

Regan said the agency would begin consulting with stakeholders in June on rule revisions.

Studies and Reports

Central Valley Project Irrigation Allocations Drop to Zero
Due to a severe drought that is getting worse, the Bureau of Reclamation cut irrigation water deliveries from the Central Valley Project from 5 percent of contracted supply to zero.

Municipal and industrial customers will receive 25 percent of their historical use.

Environmental Goals on the U.S.-Mexico Border
EPA Administrator Michael Regan and his counterpart at Mexico’s environment agency signed an agreement that places water as one of their four priorities for the border region over the next five years.

The agencies aim to improve sewage treatment in border rivers like the Tijuana, Rio Grande, and Santa Cruz, while also preventing trash from entering the waterways.

The program intends to expand safe drinking water access in underserved communities, and increase the recycling of water. Both sides also emphasized the need for timely and accurate data on sewage spills and water quality.

On the Radar

Drinking Water Contaminants Research
The National Institutes of Health is seeking information that would help it design a research program for unregulated drinking water contaminants.

The NIH is looking for comment on two areas: how a research program would be coordinated between the federal government and outside partners and what the scientific focus should be.

Responses are due June 24 and should be sent to NIEHSCEC@nih.gov with the subject line RFI Response: Drinking Water Contaminants of Emerging Concern.

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.

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