Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: May 22, 2006
Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President. I rise today to introduce the Community Water Treatment Hazards Reduction Act of 2006. This legislation would completely eliminate a known security risk to millions of Americans across the United States by facilitating the transfer to safer technologies from deadly toxic chemicals at our Nation's water treatment facilities.

Across our Nation, there are thousands of water treatment facilities that utilize gaseous toxic chemicals to treat drinking and wastewater. Approximately 2,850 facilities are currently regulated under the Clean Air Act because they store large, quantities of these dangerous chemicals. In fact, 98 of these facilities threaten over 100,000 citizens. For example, the Fiveash Water Treatment Plant in Fort Lauderdale, FL threatens 1,526,000 citizens. The Bachman Water Treatment in Dallas, TX threatens up to 2,000,000 citizens. And there are similar examples in communities throughout the Nation. If these facilities--and the 95 other facilities that threaten over 100,000 citizens--switched from the use of toxic chemicals to safer technologies that are widely used within the industry we could completely eliminate a known threat to nearly 50 million Americans.

Many facilities have already made the prudent decision to switch without intervention by government. The Middlesex County Utilities Authority in Sayreville, NJ, switched to safer technologies and eliminated the risk to 10.7 million people. The Nottingham Water Treatment Plant in Cleveland, OH switched and eliminated the risk to 1.1 million citizens. The Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant switched and eliminated the risk to 1.7 million people. In my hometown of Wilmington, DE, the Wilmington Water Pollution Control Facility switched from using chlorine gas to liquid bleach. This commendable decision has eliminated the risk to 560,000 citizens, including the entire city of Wilmington. In fact, this facility no longer has to submit risk management plans to the Environmental Protection Agencies required by the Clean Air Act because the threat has been completely eliminated. There are many other examples of facilities that have done the right thing and eliminated the use of these dangerous, gaseous chemicals.

The bottom line is that if we can eliminate a known-risk, we should. The legislation I am introducing today will do just that. It will require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, to do a few simple things. First, water facilities will be prioritized based upon the risk that they pose to citizens and critical infrastructure. These facilities--beginning with the most dangerous ones--will be required to submit a report on the feasibility of utilizing safer technologies and the anticipated costs to transition. If grant funding is available, the Administrator will issue a grant and order the facility to transition to the safer technology chosen by the owner of the facility. I believe that this approach will allow us to use federal funds responsibly while reducing risk to our citizens.

Once the transition is complete, the facility will be required to track all cost-savings related to the switch, such as decreased security costs, costs savings by eliminating administrative requirements under the EPA risk management plan, lower insurance premiums, and others. If savings are ultimately realized by the facility, it will be required to return one half of these saving, not to exceed the grant amount, back to the EPA. In turn, the EPA will utilize any returned savings to help facilitate the transition of more water facilities.

A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office found that providing grants to assist water facilities to transition to safer technologies was an appropriate use of federal funds. The costs for an individual facility to transition will vary, but the cost is very cheap when you consider the security benefit. For example, the Wilmington facility invested approximately $160,000 to transition and eliminated the risk to nearly 600,000 people. Similarly, the Blue Plains facility spent $500,000 to transition after 9/11 and eliminated the risk to 1.2 million citizens immediately. This, in my view, is a sound use of funds. And, this legislation will provide sufficient funding to transition all of our high-priority facilities throughout the Nation.

Finally, I would like to point out that facilities making the decision to transition after 9/11, but before the enactment date of this legislation will be eligible to participate in the program authorized by this legislation. I've included this provision because I believe that the federal government should acknowledge--and promote--local decisions that enhance our homeland security. In addition we don't want to create a situation where water facilities wait for Federal funding before doing the right thing and eliminating those dangerous gaseous chemicals.

Last December the 9/11 Discourse Project released its report card for the administration and Congress on efforts to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations. It was replete with D's and F's demonstrating that we have been going in the wrong direction with respect to homeland security. One of the most troubling findings made by the 9/11 Commission is that with respect to our Nation's critical infrastructure that ``no risk and vulnerability assessments actually made; no national priorities established; no recommendations made on allocations of scarce resources. All key decisions are at least a year away. It is time that we stop talking about priorities and actually get some.'' While much remains to be done, the Community Water Treatment Hazards Reduction Act of 2006 sets an important priority for our homeland security and it affirmatively addresses it. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

S. 2920


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