Federal Water Tap, March 14: EPA Tells States to Prioritize Disadvantaged Communities for Water Infrastructure Funds

The Rundown

  • EPA guidance for implementing the infrastructure bill focuses on disadvantaged communities.
  • The Defense Department says it will close a bulk fuel storage facility on Oahu that is involved in a fuel leak that contaminated drinking water sources.
  • President Biden’s executive order on digital assets requires a report on environmental ramifications of blockchain technologies.
  • The NRCS announces more than $166 million from the infrastructure bill for watershed investments.
  • The GAO investigates climate risks to hazardous chemicals facilities.

And lastly, Congress approves a 2022 budget with increases for water and environment agencies.

“This is the right thing to do.” — Lloyd Austin III, the Defense secretary, speaking about the Pentagon’s decision to shut down the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The facility is connected with a fuel leak that contaminated drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The incident in November 2021 led Hawaii’s governor to request that the military close the World War Two-era fuel depot. The Defense Department will present a plan by May 31 for decommissioning the facility and aim to complete the process 12 months after that.

By the Numbers

$166.5 Million: Funding announced by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to address flooding, water pollution, dam safety, irrigation, and erosion. It is the first round of funding from the federal infrastructure bill, which provided NRCS with $918 million for watershed investments.

$322 Million: Increase in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget in fiscal year 2022, part of the $1.5 trillion annual budget that was adopted last week. The Army Corps of Engineers ($548 million) and Bureau of Reclamation ($233 million) also saw their budgets increase.

News Briefs

EPA Water Infrastructure Guidance
In a guidance memo, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told states to prioritize disadvantaged communities when they allocate water and sewer funding from the federal infrastructure bill.

Most of the $50 billion in EPA water funding from the bill is being distributed through the state revolving funds. States, which play a key role in administering the revolving funds, had been waiting for the guidance before selecting projects that will receive grants and loans.

A key principle in administering the funds, the EPA says, is flexibility. States will be responsible for defining disadvantaged communities.

The law requires that 49 percent of drinking water and lead pipe removal funds must be delivered to disadvantaged communities in the form of grants or forgivable loans.

Blockchain and Water
As part of a wide-ranging executive order on digital assets and cryptocurrencies, President Biden ordered his science advisors to assess the environmental ramifications of blockchain technologies.

The order requires the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, within 180 days, to submit a report that covers several topics: how blockchain technologies might hinder or advance the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, how the technologies might be useful for tracking emissions or water commitments, and how the technologies affect energy use and the environment.

The blockchain, which is the basis for Bitcoin and non-fungible tokens, is a way of digitally tracking information that does not rely on a central database. In current form, it is also a voracious consumer of energy.

Studies and Reports

Natural Hazards for Hazardous Chemicals Facilities
A government watchdog found that a significant number of facilities that store hazardous chemicals are located in areas exposed to floods, fires, storm surge, and sea level rise — all natural hazards related to climate change.

In analyzing 10,420 facilities, the Government Accountability Office found 31 percent have these risks.

The GAO recommends that the EPA should issue guidance to these facilities for how to incorporate climate change into their risk management plans. The GAO also recommends that EPA inspectors be trained on how to evaluate the adequacy of these plans.

On the Radar

Klamath River Basin Restoration
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has $15 million available from the federal infrastructure bill for habitat restoration in the Klamath River basin of southern Oregon and northern California.

Applications are being accepted for projects that would improve fish and waterfowl habitat in a watershed that is an essential stopover for migrating birds.

Applications are being accepted through May 8, 2022.

Senate Clean Water State Revolving Fund Hearing
On March 16, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing to discuss the formula to allocate federal funds to states for sewer and stormwater projects.

House Farm Bill Hearing
On March 16, the House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on how the U.S. Department of Agriculture is addressing climate change.

House Wildfire Hearing
On March 16, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will discuss how forest management can reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

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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