Welcome to the June 2010 edition of NEIWPCC’s e-mail newsletter, iWR. As always, please let us know what you think! Use this link to e-mail your comments and suggestions.
Clearing the Air
After much anticipation, a two-day meeting gets underway on June 22 in Philadelphia with the goal of crafting an agreement to reduce the mercury deposited in Northeast waters from sources, such as coal-fired power plants, outside the region. The session came about as a result of a petition coordinated by NEIWPCC, which used a largely overlooked section of the Clean Water Act to call on EPA to convene a conference of all states affected by and contributing to the mercury pollution. Studies have shown that much of the mercury in Northeast waters arrives via air currents, which can carry mercury long distances before it falls into lakes and rivers. The Philadelphia conference is closed to the public, but NEIWPCC Commissioners and staff are attending. As information about the proceedings becomes available, it will be posted on the mercury section of our website.
Coastline in Crisis
As stories of water pollution go, they do not come much bigger—or more disturbing—than the one playing out right now in the Gulf of Mexico. With crude continuing to spew from BP’s blown-out well, frantic efforts to keep the oil away from the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida go on but with limited success—a deeply troubling development. The oil poses a grave threat to the gulf region’s swamps and marshes, long acknowledged as being among the nation's most fragile and valuable wetlands. To get a clear sense of the potential impact on the marshlands, we spoke with Matt Schweisberg, chief of EPA New England’s wetlands protection program and a longtime member of NEIWPCC’s Wetlands Workgroup. Read our “Five Questions” interview with Matt Schweisberg.
CWA Overhaul on Hold
Do not look for hearings this summer on new legislation to revise the Clean Water Act. In late April, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) introduced House bill 5088, which would rework the CWA to ensure protection of all U.S. waters. At the time, Oberstar said committee hearings would begin in June, but work on the bill stalled amid opposition from Republican leaders; expectations are that the effort will be taken up anew following November’s midterm elections. Legal scholars and the federal government interpret recent case law to mean that waters are protected if they have a “significant nexus” to “navigable waters.” Oberstar’s bill strikes the phrase “navigable waters” from the CWA and aims to redefine “waters of the United States,” which appears in the act, to mean all waters except rare cases such as wastewater treatment lagoons. Read NEIWPCC Executive Director Ron Poltak’s perspective in the winter edition of Interstate Water Report.
Leading Voice: A Talk with Asset Management Expert Steve Allbee
The phrase “asset management” is heard often when talk turns to America’s aging infrastructure. As budgets shrink and expectations for performance grow, it isn’t enough to do minimal maintenance on public infrastructure and simply replace components when they break. Asset management is a proactive approach to cost-effectively sustaining services, and in the water and wastewater world, it’s getting plenty of attention—thanks in large part to the efforts of U.S. EPA’s Steve Allbee. For several years, Allbee has been crisscrossing the country, conducting workshops in advanced asset management. But what exactly is asset management, and why does Allbee feel it’s so vital for utilities, large and small? Read the iWR interview with Steve Allbee.
Fracking Blowout Galvanizes Opposition
A blowout of a natural gas well in Pennsylvania on June 3 is renewing calls for stronger federal regulation of the gas-production technique called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, for short. At least 35,000 gallons of drilling fluid surged out of the well and into surrounding land before the leak was contained. In fracking, water laced with benzene and other chemicals is blasted into wells to break up subterranean layers of rock and extract the gas within; the practice is controversial due to the potential for accidents that contaminate water supplies. In New York State, fracking is on hold while new regulations are drafted, but in other states that lie above the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation, such as Pennsylvania, the drilling goes on. EPA is conducting a two-year study of fracking’s impact on water supplies, but some want the agency to do more. Read a letter from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in the wake of the June 3 blowout.