Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) today introduced H.R. 2707, the Clean Water Compliance and Ratepayer Affordability Act of 2013, which would provide local communities the flexibility to seek innovative and cost-effective approaches to Clean Water Act compliance. Chabot is joined by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Missouri) as original cosponsors of the legislation.
The proposal to allow communities more flexibility in their efforts to comply with the regulatory requirements of the Clean Water Act was initially brought to Chabot’s attention by Democratic Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune last year. Since those initial discussions, Chabot and Portune have been working together to craft the legislation.
Specifically, H.R. 2707 would create a pilot program through which 15 communities across the country will work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to craft compliance programs through the agency’s new integrated planning and permitting approach that meet each participating community’s particular needs. The pilot program will encourage approved local communities to pursue innovative and cost-effective approaches to Clean Water Act compliance without driving up costs unnecessarily through expensive and, often times, outdated mandates.
“Everybody wins under this common-sense approach,” Chabot said. “By allowing the EPA to work more effectively with pilot communities, residents of those communities should get cleaner water at a lower cost. And, hopefully, the pilot program will demonstrate to Congress, the affected states and the EPA how the resulting innovative approaches can be used on a broader scale to achieve the same or better water quality results for a smaller investment of local taxpayer dollars.”
“We in Hamilton County thank Congressman Chabot for introducing this timely legislation - clean water is important to all of us,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. “But, with the continued pressures on our communities nationwide of high unemployment, struggling economies, and the remnants of the home foreclosure crisis, we must find smarter ways to work with the EPA, our state and with each other in dealing with expensive clean water mandates that continue to strangle our economy and our ratepayers.”
Under current law, EPA regulatory policies and enforcement-led approaches to Clean Water Act compliance through court-ordered consent decrees often require local communities to pay for massive, one-size-fits-all solutions, which in some instances prove over time to be terribly outdated. Consequently, communities facing Clean Water Act compliance issues are often forced into expensive actions that may not adequately meet their needs or meet most clean water requirements.
In Hamilton County, for example, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati has been required, under a consent decree, to construct over $3.2 billion in sewer improvements in order to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Residents and businesses in Hamilton County are facing higher sewer rates – now and in the future. Sewer rates have risen 130% over the past 9 years, another 5.5 percent this year (an increase of nearly $50 per customer), and are expected to increase in the future. The Hamilton County Commissioners estimate this legislation could save county ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars compared to the currently estimated total cost of repairs.
In 2010, Commissioner Portune worked with other communities facing similar compliance issues to form the “Perfect Storm” Coalition whose purpose is to seek more flexibility for communities in meeting these regulatory requirements while at the same time reeling from the “perfect storm” of high unemployment, the economic downturn, and the housing crisis. As part of this effort, Portune met with Congressman Chabot to discuss the problem and propose a solution that ultimately led to H.R. 2707.
“The ‘Perfect Storm’ Coalition has raised these issues with Congress and the Administration, and now we have H.R. 2707 before the Congress to accomplish what we set out to do – add flexible, cost effective approaches to the mix in meeting clean water mandates,” stated Portune.
The legislation facilitates flexible compliance solutions by providing the EPA with the direction and authority to work cooperatively and collaboratively with pilot communities to: lengthen the terms of Clean Water Act permits; adjust implementation plans under consent decrees; take into account worsening economic conditions affecting a community’s ability to afford wet weather investments; and strengthen a community’s ability to use innovative and adaptive approaches to solve wet weather problems.
H.R. 2707 is consistent with the Integrated Planning and Permitting Policy Framework proposed by the EPA last year to help communities meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act in a more flexible, affordable and cost-effective manner. Unfortunately, the agency has struggled to effectively implement the Framework through the use of pilot communities. H.R. 2707 will direct the EPA to launch a pilot program modeled on this Framework.