EPA Administrator Prioritizes Safe Drinking Water for Coming Year

McCarthy Bills Safe Drinking Water As Top EPA Priority For Coming Year 

Source: Inside EPA

July 29, 2016

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says the coming year is “the year of water,” where officials will make improving drinking water infrastructure their top priority, while also noting that EPA is “running like crazy” to help states that choose to implement its power plant greenhouse gas (GHG) rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, despite a high court stay of the rule.

“We want to make sure that while the Clean Power Plan is stayed, it doesn’t mean that state actions are stayed,” McCarthy told the agency’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) during a July 29 meeting at EPA headquarters in Washington, DC.

The LGAC consists primarily of local officials, and McCarthy’s remarks to the agency advisory group focused largely on working with the city and county officials to improve community drinking water systems.

As part of that effort, the agency is charging LGAC with developing advice on a range of issues the agency may seek to include in its upcoming National Action Plan for Drinking Water, including ways to strengthen implementation of current lead and copper standards and improved approaches to addressing emerging and unregulated contaminants.

The agency’s focus is being driven by the drinking water crisis in Flint, MI, which McCarthy described as a failure that can never happen again. She noted that regulators failed to discover the lead contamination for roughly two years. EPA staff has been reviewing what went wrong in Flint and searching for a path forward, she said.

“The year coming up will be the year of water,” McCarthy said. “If we can’t deliver clean drinking water than we have a significant challenge.”

EPA is “looking at” its programs for assisting communities, McCarthy said, such as its state revolving loan funds that directly support state and local projects, and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act that leverages federal funds to support borrowing.

While noting she wants to provide communities with a range of options for improving water systems, McCarthy emphasized, “It is my obligation to make sure that every community has access to clean drinking water.” The agency is weighing what has to be done to achieve that goal, she said.

Multi-Billion Dollar Task

McCarthy cautioned that improving water infrastructure nationwide is “a multi-billion dollar task,” and said governments must better use their resources. “We have to get much smarter about leveraging public dollars,” she said. “This isn’t going to be done without significant re-investment.”

EPA will need LGAC’s assistance in working with local communities, especially in rural areas, to ensure that the agency is supporting communities rather than “dictating a small range of options.”

Additionally, McCarthy asked the panel of local officials to call their congressional representatives and press for new environmental laws. “Tell folks on the Hill that if you decide to act in a bipartisan way on environmental issues, we are going to make good.”

Dave Reynolds (dreynolds@iwpnews.com)

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