Federal Water Tap, April 10: EPA’s Proposed Strengthening of Air Pollution Standards Comes with Water Benefit

The Rundown

  • An EPA proposal to cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants would decrease water pollution and accumulation of pollutants in fish.
  • President Biden vetoes a Clean Water Act rollback.
  • An EPA survey of drinking water utilities estimates the number of lead service lines.
  • The EPA allocates FY2023 drinking water funds under the federal infrastructure bill.
  • The western snowpack breaks records.
  • The Interior Department signs a drought funding agreement with the Gila River Indian Community.
  • The EPA agrees to a timeline for considering a petition to strengthen water pollution regulations for CAFOs.
  • The National Toxicology Program’s science advisers will meet on May 4 to discuss a draft report on the toxicity of fluoride in drinking water.

And lastly, the Department of Justice files a complaint against Norfolk Southern to recover pollution costs from the East Palestine train derailment.

“We will tirelessly pursue justice for the people living in and near East Palestine, who like all Americans deserve clean air, clean water, and a safe community for their children.” — Todd Kim, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. The department, in a civil action, is seeking penalties and cleanup costs from Norfolk Southern following the derailment of a company train on February 3, 2023, in East Palestine, Ohio. The accident spilled hazardous chemicals including hydrocarbons into streams and soil.

By the Numbers

9.2 Million: Estimated number of lead services lines in the country. The data point is part of the EPA’s latest national survey of infrastructure needs for drinking water utilities. The survey for the first time asked about the number of lead service lines.

$233 Million: Federal funding the Gila River Indian Community will receive in response to declining water supplies in the Colorado River basin. The package includes $83 million for a recycled water pipeline and $150 million over three years to conserve water in Lake Mead. The agreement, funded by Inflation Reduction Act money, calls for up to 125,000 acre-feet of conserved water each year.

News Briefs

Air Pollution Proposal
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to strengthen air pollution standards for coal-fired power plants, a regulatory move that would also improve water quality and reduce the accumulation of pollutants in fish.

The proposal targets hazardous pollutants such as arsenic, cadmium, selenium, and nickel. It also focuses on mercury, a toxic heavy metal that is emitted when coal is burned to produce electricity. Mercury settles into water bodies, where it can build up in fish tissue. Those fish are more likely to be consumed by low-income people and people of color, and the EPA says the rule should reduce methylmercury exposure from eating fish.

Biden Vetoes Clean Water Act Rollback
President Biden vetoed a resolution passed by Congress that would have revoked an administration rule that defines which water bodies are protected by the Clean Water Act.

In his veto message, the president claimed that the current definition provides “clear rules of the road” for builders, farmers, and cities.

Drinking Water Funding Allocations
The EPA distributed $6 billion in funding to states, tribes, and territories for fiscal year 2023 under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Made through the state revolving funds, the allocations are based on infrastructure needs demonstrated in a survey of drinking water providers.

Foreign Buyers of U.S. Farmland
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to increase scrutiny of foreign purchases of U.S. farmland.

The bill requires the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to review agricultural land purchases by countries that are deemed to be national security risks.

“For too long, Washington has allowed foreign adversaries like China and Russia to buy up American farmland and its precious water resources while our family farmers and our economies became collateral damage,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), a bill sponsor, said in a statement.

Studies and Reports

Western Snowpack Breaks Records
Snowpack generally peaks in the beginning of April, and this year the peak, in many states, is higher than ever.

NRCS and California measurements show that 30 percent of snow-monitoring sites set an April 1 record for snow-water equivalent. Record-setting snow totals occurred in Utah’s Wasatch Front and California’s Sierra Nevada.

Snow high in the watershed means lots of water flowing downstream once temperatures rise. California is on flood alert, while Lake Powell is projected to receive 177 percent of average runoff through July.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Up
The concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere continued to rise in 2022.

According to NOAA measurements, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide rose rapidly.

“It’s a clear sign that much more effort will be required if we hope to stabilize levels of these gases in the next few decades,” Stephen Montzka, NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory senior scientist, said in a statement.

On the Radar

EPA Agrees to Consider CAFO Pollution Petition
The EPA reached an agreement with environmental groups in federal court that the agency will consider a petition to strengthen the regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations under the Clean Water Act.

The EPA will respond to the petition by August 15, 2023.

The environmental groups filed the petition in 2017.

In context: Opposition to CAFOs Mounts across the Nation

Does Fluoride Damage Brains?
The National Toxicology Program’s expert panel will review a draft report (note: large PDF) on whether fluoride in drinking water damages the human brain.

The review assessed existing studies. It concluded, with moderate confidence, that high fluoride exposure (above 1.5 mg/L) is associated with lower IQ in children. These are exposures that are much higher than is typical in U.S. drinking water, which has a standard of 0.7 mg/L.

The Board of Scientific Counselors meets on May 4. The meeting is open to the public and a link to view the meeting will be posted the day before. The agenda is posted here.

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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