Vance Taylor

Oct 20, 2009

The House Energy & Commerce Committee is set to markup the Drinking Water System Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 3258) tomorrow.  The bill, which would regulate drinking water utilities through a “CFATS-like” regime under the Environemental Protection Agency (EPA), will require utilities to update their vulnerability assessments, develop site security plans, and evaluate their disinfection processes.  Were the bill to stop there, Congress could have avoided controversy – but we all know how Congress loves a good controversy…

Concerns regarding use of chlorine have led members from the majority to include a mandate within the bill requiring utilities to adopt so-called Inherently Safer Technologies (ISTs) if a switch can be made without impacting public health, shifting risk, or bankrupting a given system.  The “decision-maker,” or entity with final say as to whether a utility has to change processes, is the State (or the EPA if the State lacks primacy, such as in Wyoming or DC).  While other concerns exist, enabling someone beyond the local utility to be able to force a change in treatment process is by far the standout issue of this legislation.

For my money, I’d say the current language represents a perfect compromise in that neither side is completely happy.  Democrats on the Committee, like Chairman Waxman and SubCommittee Chairman Markey, wanted a bill that mandated all utilities to switch by giving EPA the authority to force them to banish chlorine.  Drinking water systems wanted to continue operating without new regulations, or at the very least, maintain decision-making authority regarding disinfection processes.  Neither side ran the table.

On this particular issue, the Energy & Commerce Committee gave “the people” what they claimed to want – compromise and thoughtful negotiation.  Too bad we’re living in an ”all or nothing” society…

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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