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CEQ, EPA Discuss Water Mandates, Affordability with Elected Officials
EPA Deputy Administrator Perciasepe Announces Clean Water Affordability Dialogue with Local Government

By Rich Anderson
January 28, 2013

The United States Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) welcomed Nancy Sutley, Chair, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and senior officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discuss water mandates and community affordability. The three organizations invited CEQ and EPA to discuss an urgent local government need to clarify how the financial capability of a community will be considered when developing legally enforceable long-term control plans and when other water quality obligations under the Clean Water Act (CWA) require increased local costs.

Mayors Water Council Co-Chair Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard welcomed NLC and NACo and thanked CEQ and EPA officials for their participation and for their continued engagement with local elected officials. Ballard outlined some of the practical results of prior meetings that helped EPA clarify support for green infrastructure and integrated planning under the CWA.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, and Second Vice President of the National League of Cities, thanked EPA for recognizing the vital role that all cities play in protecting our nation’s water resources saying that he looks “...forward to engaging in this important dialogue with EPA on the affordability and expediency of bringing clean and safe water to our cities and towns.”

EPA Takes Steps to Improve Intergovernmental Partnership

Perciasepe stated that a fundamental EPA priority is to strengthen the intergovernmental partnership with cities and local governments. He cited Administration efforts to establish Inter-Agency coordination with HUD and DOT and listen to community leaders more than ever before, and better understand how clean water goals mix with housing and transportation goals. He also identified several programs like the Urban Water Initiative where EPA is engaged at the local and regional level to foster water quality.

He stated that working with local government in the last several years on water quality issues has resulted in new EPA policy to promote green infrastructure to address wet weather overflows, and the Integrated Planning Policy to use flexibilities in the CWA to prioritize local investments to projects that deliver the highest health and environmental benefits to the public. Now, he announced, EPA is committed to a dialogue with local government on how to assess a community’s ability to make potentially large capital investments to control sanitary and combined sewer overflows. He stated that what he hopes to move forward is, “Priority setting and financing and [finding out] where are the flexibilities and how do we work that through to implementation.”

CEQ Advances Case for Smart Investment

Sutley stated, “Smart infrastructure investment creates jobs and is good for our economy and our country.” Sutley asserted it is timely to look at cost-effective and innovative approaches to managing tough issues like flooding and sewer overflows. Innovation, she stated, is important; by example she referred to the role of green infrastructure in meeting needs through different solutions.

Sutley amplified Perciasepe’s remarks that the Administration is working together to build a more coordinated Inter-Agency approach to achieving clean water goals. She stated that local investments in clean water obligations also present opportunities to a community to grow economically and become more resilient in wet weather conditions. CEQ has been exploring ways to work with foundations and the private sector to leverage public investment to achieve multiple goals. CEQ is considering ways to promote public-private partnerships that attract private investment. For example, she mentioned a partnership model applied in Rio De Janiero where multiple applications were aligned to schedules for large public projects, such as underground pipe replacement, and overall costs may be shared

EPA Makes Good on Promise to Look for Opportunities to Apply Flexibility

Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles stated that EPA is bringing increased flexibility to the table in enforcement actions and consent agreements. She cited several cities and counties that were afforded longer compliance schedules in their long term control plans to manage sewer overflows; and other cities that have successfully incorporated green infrastructure to manage wet weather overflows and reduce overall project costs.

Giles said that at previous meetings with the Conference of Mayors, EPA listened to mayoral concerns about community financial capability and agreed to take concrete steps to address those concerns. The agency issued a Memorandum to the Regional Offices on January 18, stating a framework for consideration of expanded community financial capability factors in setting compliance schedules for sewer overflows. Giles reiterated EPA’s participation in the Affordability Dialogue with local government, and try to find flexible solutions that are within the scope of the CWA.

Giles stated that cities want consistent policy implementation at EPA Regional offices. She noted that consistency in the Regions is one of the items to be discussed in the Dialogue, and was included in the Memorandum. Giles stated that the Dialogue can identify additional information that should be considered, EPA’s endorsement of considering those items, and how we are going to use this as a foundation going forward working with you [local government] to implement these ideas on the ground.

Framework for Considering Financial Capability

Office of Water Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner introduced several of the topics slated for discussion with local government under the Framework including: benchmarks used to assess affordability and how EPA does not solely rely on the two percent of Median Household Income benchmark; how to use flexibility in the CWA to prioritize investments; alternative rate structure arrangements; innovative financing tools including public-private partnerships; how to facilitate consistent policy implementation at EPA Regional offices; and other community specific factors inclusion obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act should be considered.