The Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, chaired by U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), held a hearing on Wednesday, July 25, to review the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recently finalized integrated planning and permitting regulatory prioritization effort under the Clean Water Act. This was the Subcommittee's second hearing on the subject, following the hearing held in December to examine EPA's initial proposal.
"I would like to welcome everyone to our hearing today on "Integrated Planning and Permitting, Part 2: An Opportunity for EPA to Provide Communities with Flexibility to Make Smart Investments in Water Quality. This is a followup to the hearing we held back in December on EPA's proposed integrated framework. In last December's hearing, we heard from several witnesses from State and local government about how communities all across the nation are facing increasing regulatory, enforcement, and financial pressures, not only to address sewer overflows and other aging wastewater infrastructure issues, but also to deal with numerous other burdensome regulatory issues that recently have become national priorities.
"These include more stringent and widespread regulation of stormwater discharges, nutrients and other pollutants, and public drinking water systems, which could lead to many communities having to install and operate, at great expense, treatment, removal, and prevention technologies. All of these initiatives are piling on additional layers of regulatory requirements and economic burdens that our communities are having to somehow deal with. A large portion of these regulatory mandates are going unfunded by the Federal and State governments, with the result that many municipalities have made substantial increases in investments in wastewater and public water infrastructure in recent years. Local communities and ratepayers are now increasingly getting economically tapped out.
"In response to some of these issues, last year EPA proposed an integrated planning and permitting policy that was intended to provide some flexibility in how communities manage their regulatory and enforcement mandates under the Clean Water Act. At last December's hearing, we heard from witnesses about the proposed policy and some of the concerns they had with it. Some of the witnesses also urged EPA to be more proactive and collaboratively assist communities, through pilot demonstration projects, to develop flexible, practical, and affordable integrated plans.
"I believe it is time for the national clean water strategy to evolve from a "one size fits all" mandate and enforcement approach, to an integrated strategy that recognizes the individual public health needs and water quality benefits of water and wastewater utilities, and the resource limitations of communities. I am pleased to see that EPA has finalized its integrated regulatory planning and permitting framework, and hope that EPA is strongly committed to implementing this new policy. There seems to be some willingness on the part of the Agency to make this a planning and permitting approach that would largely take this out of the "enforcement action" realm. However, I still have some concerns that some at EPA still may not be willing to limit the Agency's enforcement efforts against municipalities.
"A continued emphasis on an enforcement approach, including consent decrees, will undermine the flexibility that EPA is ostensibly seeking to provide under this policy. Of course, it remains to be seen how this initiative will turn out. The devil will be in the details of how it is implemented. I would like to hear from today's State and local government witnesses about their thoughts on EPA's now-finalized policy, and whether EPA has adequately addressed their concerns. In addition, I want to hear from our EPA witnesses about how specifically the Agency plans to address the remaining concerns voiced by our State and local witnesses."