Panel Approves Drinking Water Bill with Several Pluses for Cities
Kocheisen, Carol, Nation's Cities Weekly
By another unanimous roll call vote (42-0), the full House Commerce Committee (Tom Bliley, R-Va., Chrmn.) completed action on H.R. 3604, a bipartisan bill revising and reauthorizing the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Committee approved two amendments: one by Rep. Rick White (R-Wash.) allowing the use of ozonation as an alternative to filtration in certain areas; the other by Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.), chair of the Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the drinking water law, which made technical changes and "streamlined" the citizen right-to-know ("consumer confidence reports") provisions. Bilirakis amended the consumer confidence reports language to delete the requirement for public water systems to publish an annual report about their drinking water in local newspapers. All public water systems serving more than 10,000 customers would continue to be required to mail an annual report to their consumers.
* The overall product of the bipartisan agreement is a net plus for the nation's cities, towns and water suppliers in that it makes significant changes to a number of problematic elements in the current law. The measure also includes provisions that have the potential to create new problems in the administration and implementation of the Safe Drinking Water law.
Principal improvements include:
Selection of Contaminants for Regulation
Revisions to the current process for selecting contaminants for regulation. Under current law, EPA is mandated to develop standards for 25 new contaminants every three years regardless of whether they are found, or found at levels of public health concern, in drinking water supplies. The newly approved House Committee bill would authorize EPA to determine whether to regulate five new contaminants every five years after consultation with the scientific community and review of data accumulated from public water systems monitoring for unregulated contaminants.
To make a decision to regulate EPA would have to find that the contaminant occurs or is likely to occur in public water systems; occurs in public water systems in quantities sufficient to be of public health concern; and that regulation of the contaminant would provide a "meaningful opportunity for public health risk reduction."
Regulations now being developed under the current law would be superceded.
Standard Setting Process
The Committee-approved provisions with respect to standard setting are substantially similar to provisions approved by the Senate in S. 1316.
In setting standards for new contaminants EPA would be authorized to take benefits and costs into consideration. In addition, EPA would have to consider the impact of a new standard on other contaminants in drinking water or the impact on treatment techniques or processes used to comply with other regulations (risk trade-off). In either case, EPA could set less stringent standards than are otherwise required by the law.
The benefit/cost considerations would not be applicable to standards for disinfection by-products (DBPs) or cryptosporidium; the risk trade-off provisions are applicable to DBPs and cryptosporidium.
The proposal would also specifically address arsenic, radon, sulfates and disinfection of underground sources of drinking water. EPA is required to withdraw any radon regulations already promulgated and to repromulgate a standard for radon using the new standard setting process within three years. The arsenic provisions require further study on its carcinogenicity with subsequent revision of the standard delayed until 2001. Sulfates may be addressed through public education and the provision of alternative drinking water supplies (bottled water). Requirements for disinfection of groundwater will be delayed until promulgation of the Stage II disinfectant/disinfection byproducts rule on the assumption that additional research will assist in determining whether and which groundwater supplies should be disinfected. …