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Mayors Recommend Principles, Elements of a Cost-Efficient Clean Water Integrated Planning Policy

By Rich Anderson
January 30, 2012

The Mayors Water Council (MWC) convened on January 18 in Washington (DC) to discuss the new Clean Water Act Integrated Planning Policy with representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). MWC Co-Chair Pleasanton (CA) Mayor Jennifer Hosterman moderated the session.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Co-Chair of the MWC, welcomed EPA to the meeting. He expressed support for "...EPA staff to truly work with cities as partners to find ways to develop the strategies that get the environmental benefits that we all want, but at the lowest cost possible." He remarked that Indianapolis was successful in renegotiating its Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) consent decree to be more effective at less cost, and that he appreciated EPA's efforts to work with the city to make that happen. Ballard stated that he looked forward to participating in the EPA Work Shop in Chicago on the Integrated Planning Framework (February 17) to discuss affordability issues, especially the need to address both CSOs and drinking water mandates since the rate payers must fund all of the mandates.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings'Blake thanked the EPA and the mayors attending the meeting. She said that mayors "...just want a common sense approach to tackling our environmental issues. We all want clean water, and we all want sustainable cities, but we also want autonomy and common sense when it comes to funding these priorities."

Conference of Mayors Vice President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter stated, "We are not the enemy. We can be friends and operate in the spirit of partnership. In many instances these consent decrees force us into unnecessarily negative confrontations between and among folks that really should be looking for ways to achieve partnership and accountability as opposed to penalizing and running up capital budget bills and rates for our customers and citizens as well as unnecessary litigation fees".

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle emphasized that relying on permits rather than consent decrees will yield a better result. He said, "It's time to put the lawyers on the sidelines and bring the professionals, the engineers the scientists the environmentalists to the forefront and let's set some policy that is real for the citizens that we all serve."

EPA Office of Water Senior Advisor Ellen Gilinsky said that the EPA is excited at the level of interest the mayors have shown on this issue. She stated that the Integrated Planning Policy is intended to get the most water quality benefits as quickly as possible, and to cut through red tape.

Water Enforcement Division Director Mark Pollins said that he and Debra Nagle of the permitting division have been tasked by Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe to make the policy work. He said that his office is in constant communication with the regional offices, and will be reviewing every permit renewal that comes up and every enforcement action where the Policy can be used. He stated that after reviewing the Conference of Mayors recommended key elements for an Integrated Planning approach, "There is a tremendous commonality of interest."

Pollins emphasized that state regulators are their partners, and state water quality plans and regulations must be honored. He said that the key elements of a Clean Water Act plan should be decided in a dialogue between states, EPA and the cities. They should include: a description of existing water quality and what problems are present; a description of existing wastewater and storm water systems to inform the discussion; what processes are in place for involving the community; an alternatives analysis, where cost is a consideration, and cost-effectiveness analysis is part of the alternatives consideration. The most critical element for EPA is if a plan contains proposed performance criteria and measures of success.

Pollins stated that a number of communities have come forward and proposed to begin working on this as pilots. He reemphasized the need for all parties to be creative on performance standards and measures of success that EPA and others can agree on. He said that the EPA wants to do this as much as possible through permits, but there are legal limits and they want to work with cities to see where flexibility can be used appropriately.

Hosterman closed the meeting by stating that The U.S. Conference of Mayors has been afforded two panelist seats at a series of EPA Work Shops on the framework for an Integrated Planning Policy. The EPA meetings will be held in: Atlanta January 31; New York City February 6; Seattle February 13; Kansas City KS February 15; and, Chicago February 17.