Tuesday, December 08, 2009

About That EPA Statement On Dirty Drinking Water

The New York Times reported that drinking water in municipalities around the nation are suffering from too many contaminants and have all too frequently ignored rules on filtration.
That law requires communities to deliver safe tap water to local residents. But since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.

Regulators were informed of each of those violations as they occurred. But regulatory records show that fewer than 6 percent of the water systems that broke the law were ever fined or punished by state or federal officials, including those at the Environmental Protection Agency, which has ultimate responsibility for enforcing standards.

Studies indicate that drinking water contaminants are linked to millions of instances of illness within the United States each year.

In some instances, drinking water violations were one-time events, and probably posed little risk. But for hundreds of other systems, illegal contamination persisted for years, records show.

On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee will question a high-ranking E.P.A. official about the agency’s enforcement of drinking-water safety laws. The E.P.A. is expected to announce a new policy for how it polices the nation’s 54,700 water systems.

“This administration has made it clear that clean water is a top priority,” said an E.P.A. spokeswoman, Adora Andy, in response to questions regarding the agency’s drinking water enforcement. The E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, this year announced a wide-ranging overhaul of enforcement of the Clean Water Act, which regulates pollution into waterways.

“The previous eight years provide a perfect example of what happens when political leadership fails to act to protect our health and the environment,” Ms. Andy added.
EPA Chief Lisa Jackson and her staff takes to blaming the prior Administration for not doing enough to curb the problem. That's a common occurrence with the Obama Administration.

However, scratching the surface unveils a far more disturbing picture - and one that isn't kind to Jackson, and shows that her staff is politicizing the agency's actions.

Under President Bush, allowable levels of arsenic in drinking water was reduced from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. That means municipalities that complied with the prior standard may now face requirements to reduce arsenic levels. The reduction was expected to reduce certain incidences of cancer. 4,000 out of 74,000 regulated municipalities were required to act on the new lower levels. The cost per household annually was going to run around $32, but smaller municipalities could see a far higher annual cost to comply - anywhere from $58 to $327.

$20 million was set aside for assisting municipalities in complying, but that turned out to be little more than an unfunded mandate.

Closer to home, Jackson was previously responsible heading the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection under Jon Corzine, and she failed miserably to do her job in state. After all, she was responsible for enforcing the drinking water standards in the state, and she and her staff didn't bring the state's municipalities into compliance, including Ramsey, New Jersey. As the Times reports:
An analysis of E.P.A. data shows that Safe Drinking Water Act violations have occurred in parts of every state. In the prosperous town of Ramsey, N.J., for instance, drinking water tests since 2004 have detected illegal concentrations of arsenic, a carcinogen, and the dry cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, which has also been linked to cancer.


However, almost none of those systems were ever punished. Ramsey was not fined for its water violations, for example, though a Ramsey official said that filtration systems have been installed since then. In New York, only three water systems were penalized for bacteria violations, according to federal data.
The EPA lacks the money to go after the municipalities. States lack the money to assist municipalities implement the filtration necessary. The municipalities lack the money to make the changes, and foot dragging goes on all around the country.

NYC was mandated to build a filtration plant for the Croton reservoir system because of suspended particulates. The original cost for the filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park was supposed to be $1 billion or so, but it now looks like it will top $3 billion and wont be ready for another couple of years. The City fought the filtration requirement because of the cost, and now that the City is finally building it, it's costing far more than ever anticipated. Those costs get passed on to everyone.

And EPA regulators are now looking at additional filtration on NYC water for other reservoirs. Watershed protection costs have gone through the roof, but what is the alternative? The money has to be spent to keep the quality up, but what about those municipalities who lack the resources to make it happen.

Increasing the standards means the water is cleaner, but it comes at an ever greater cost that gets passed on to the end users in higher taxes and fees.

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