Supporting Integrated Planning and Affordability Measures in Bi-partisan Water Resources Development Act of 2016

Adopted at the 84th Annual Meeting in 2016

  • WHEREAS, capital costs that cities bear to address combined sewer overflows (CSOs), sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), treatment plant upgrades, and stormwater controls (TMDL's) are unfunded federal mandates and are among the most costly burdens faced by local governments and their citizens; and

    WHEREAS, upon the passage of the Clean Water Act (CWA), Congress authorized and funded over $60 billion in grants that created partnerships between municipalities, states and the federal government to share the costs of upgrading publicly owned treatment works around the country to meet CWA mandates relating to secondary treatment; and

    WHEREAS, in 1987, Congress stated that water and sewer systems are local concerns and determined that large capital grants for municipal wastewater treatment were no longer affordable to the nation's treasury, phasing out grants to local governments to be replaced by loan programs managed by the states; and

    WHEREAS, since the early 1970's local governments have invested over $2 trillion in water and sewer infrastructure, with the Bureau of Census reporting in 2013 that local government now spends more than $117 billion annually to provide water and sewer services to 80% of American households, an annual amount that is nearly double the total of all grants that the federal government provided in the first 20 years of the CWA; and

    WHEREAS, since then many unanticipated and extremely costly new CWA and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) mandates have been imposed on local governments and indeed more are to be imposed on local governments in coming months and years; and

    WHEREAS, the many CWA/SWDA mandates have created cumulative financial burdens that cannot be borne by municipalities, their low and moderate income families, and their business enterprises, forcing municipalities to forego investment in competing municipal priorities; and

    WHEREAS, in explicit recognition of the burden of these costs USEPA developed a policy allowing local governments to create Integrated Plans through which a local government can coordinate competing and sometimes conflicting actions, prioritize actions that will provide the greatest environmental benefits for the funds expended, and evaluate progress and the need for further actions to meet water quality standards through adaptive management processes; and

    WHEREAS, because USEPA currently interprets the CWA to require immediate compliance with any pre-1977 water quality standards, it has relied on aggressive enforcement tools such as consent decrees and orders as its principal method of interacting with municipalities, resulting in overly costly and overly prescriptive mandates that often yield negligible public benefits, and precluding opportunities for flexibility by preempting the use of permits and adaptive management processes to comply with CWA obligations, and

    WHEREAS, in tandem with these decrees and orders, USEPA and DOJ have adopted policies on penalties and fines that treat local governments as polluters, rather than as partners and stewards in improving our environment; and

    WHEREAS, the Mayors Water Council has engaged for more than 7 years in intensive dialogue with USEPA, the White House, and with House and Senate legislators on the topics of Integrated Planning, green infrastructure, affordability and the over-reliance on consent decrees and penalties to address the need for water quality improvements; and

    WHEREAS, the Mayors Water Council has published policy papers, conducted cost studies relating to the impacts unfunded federal mandates on poor and middle income households, and prepared draft legislation proposals to make Integrated Planning a part of the CWA in order to assure all the nation's cities the flexibility and affordability which such a mechanism can provide; and

    WHEREAS, on April 7, 2016, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held hearings on these long-standing concerns of cities and others regarding the costs of unfunded mandates, the often hostile approaches taken by USEPA in its enforcement relationships with local governments, and the affordability issues for poor and middle income households for water and sewer services; and the US Conference of Mayors provided in-depth testimony on those issues; and

    WHEREAS, on April 26, 2016 the Senate EPW Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Boxer introduced the bi-partisan Water Resources Development Act of 2016 which included many of the recommendations which had been articulated by the US Conference of Mayors, including incorporating Integrated Planning into the CWA, authorizing the flexible achievement of long term control plans via permits rather than consent decrees, discouraging a primary reliance on median household income as defining affordability, encouraging green infrastructure and providing for grants to local governments to address affordability concerns, creating an Ombudsman to facilitate the relationships between the regional offices and local governments; and

    WHEREAS on April 28, 2016 the Senate EPW Committee reported the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA) (S 2848) out of committee with a bi-partisan vote of 19-1; and

    WHEREAS, the WRDA of 2016 (S. 2848) establishes Integrated Planning and Affordability Issues more formally in the development and implementation of federal and state water policy; local government gets a greater say in selecting solutions based on local priorities and local financial conditions,

    NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors states its support for Integrated Planning and Affordability Measures incorporated in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, S. 2848 and asks for urgent Congressional action on the following:

    1. Codification of Integrated Planning in the Clean Water Act.

    2. Recognition that a joint environmental stewardship must be re-established between the federal, state and local governments.

    3. assurance that the costs of sustaining the infrastructure and operations of water and wastewater systems of cities do not unjustly burden low and moderate income households nor create burdensome costs for business enterprises

    4. Congressional authorization for and appropriation of capital grants to assist cities in meeting mandates imposed under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, thereby assuring the public of the health and safety of drinking water and the nation's rivers and streams.

    5. Without regard to the actual availability of federal grants or loans for addressing Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act mandates, increased flexibility for municipalities seeking to comply with the mandates and with this being achieved through permits based upon integrated plans developed by municipalities to prioritize actions providing the greatest environmental benefits for the funds expended, and to allow municipalities to evaluate their progress and any need for further actions to meet water quality standards through adaptive management processes.

    6. the removal of regulatory barriers to the use of adaptive management and permits to implement integrated plans by specifically determining that a municipality implementing an integrated plan will be in compliance with its permit as long as it is making reasonable progress towards achieving Clean Water Act goals.

    7. Prohibit USEPA from imposing civil or administrative penalties on a municipality for past violations if the municipality agrees to implement a plan to come into compliance with Clean Water Act obligations.

    8. Require USEPA to update its affordability guidance to provide a more realistic and complete review of the all the financial burdens on municipalities and their ratepayers, including burden imposed by other federal laws and policies, and to justify flexible approaches to meeting all federal and state water-related mandates.

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