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Lawmakers Renew Effort To Help Rural Communities

Location: Washington, DC

Lawmakers Renew Effort To Help Rural Communities 3/15/2005


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Nobody cares more about the safety of a community's drinking water, or is more eager to do the right thing to protect it, than the people who live, work and raise families there. Not bureaucrats. Not the Environmental Protection Agency. Not the federal government.

That's why Idaho Congressmen C.L. "Butch" Otter and Mike Simpson reintroduced their legislation on Tuesday empowering small, rural communities like many in Idaho to decide for themselves whether to comply with an unnecessarily strict, expensive and scientifically questionable new EPA rule.

The Small Community Options for Regulatory Equity Act is identical to a bill of the same name introduced in the 108th Congress. It enables communities with populations under 10,000 to opt out of the EPA's new Safe Drinking Water Act standards for arsenic - which occurs naturally in many water systems in the West, at levels above what the agency considers safe - if they determine the cost to citizens exceeds the potential benefit.

The measure addresses a new EPA rule requiring all drinking water systems to reduce arsenic levels from the previous standard of 50 parts per billion to no more than 10 parts per billion by January 23, 2006. That might be achievable for larger municipal systems, but for many small communities it threatens to impose an impossible financial burden on residents who face no discernible health threat. The bill introduced by Idaho's representatives restores the kind of flexibility that Congress wrote into the Safe Drinking Water Act, but which the EPA has chosen to ignore. The agency's unwillingness to consider local conditions and single-minded commitment to a one-size-fits-all solution is contrary to Idaho's interest in educating and assisting citizens rather than proscribing actions and punishing non-compliance.

"This is another one of those all-too-frequent cases of Washington, D.C., deciding what's best for folks in states where we work for a living rather than vote for a living. It would be tough to find a clearer example of the Big Brother approach that leaves people frustrated with government and helpless to do anything about it," said Congressman Otter, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials. "This bill is part of what needs to be a renewed commitment to restoring government to its proper role in our lives. The bottom line is this: If government isn't reasonable, it's wrong."

"All across rural America, small communities are struggling with how to pay for federal regulations that simply don't make any sense," said Congressman Simpson, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing the EPA. "In the case of arsenic, over 150 Idaho water systems are facing millions in compliance costs and severe penalties unless they reduce naturally occurring arsenic levels to an arbitrary, unnecessary number. The federal government's command-and-control regulatory structure is unresponsive to the concerns of rural communities and that is why this legislation is so desperately needed."

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