By JOAN LOWY
Scripps Howard News Service
May 12, 2005
The lawmakers say they will offer an amendment to a bill containing the EPA's fiscal 2006 budget, blocking the agency from spending any money on the proposed policy. The House is expected to take up the bill next week.
"I think (the policy) is unhealthy for our environment and unhealthy for our citizens," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who is leading the effort. "It is, quite frankly, a ridiculous proposal."
Recalling a 1993 outbreak in Milwaukee of cryptosporidium - a waterborne parasite - that caused over 100 deaths and 400,000 intestinal illnesses, Stupak asked: "Why would you want to go back to that?"
Under the Clean Water Act, plants are only permitted to release partially treated sewage during extreme weather events when it's not feasible to fully treat the sewage.
Several years ago, EPA officials in some parts of the country demanded that sewage-treatment operators show they don't have feasible alternatives to releasing partially treated sewage, such as building extra storage tanks, applying new technologies and fixing or upgrading pipes.
EPA's proposed policy change would allow treatment plants to release partially treated sewage virtually any time it rains, rather than only during extreme weather events like hurricanes, said Nancy Stoner, clean-water director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental group.
Under the "blending policy," sewer operators remove solids from sewage, but could skip secondary treatment during which bacteria, viruses and parasites are removed. The partially treated sewage would be mixed with fully treated sewage and released.
Operators of sewage-treatment facilities say blending is a necessary practice common during wet weather when water washes into sewers and seeps through cracks in pipes, overwhelming treatment plants.
Eliminating blending would place a financial burden on " thousands of communities that blend as their way of providing the greatest treatment possible in wet weather," said Alexandra Dunn, general counsel for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, a trade association for municipal sewage-treatment operators.
The policy change would also benefit builders and developers, allowing local governments in fast-growing areas to lift moratoriums on new sewer hookups or lower their fees.
"Everyone lives downstream of somebody's sewage treatment," Stoner said. "So we all face a threat to our health, economy and environment if EPA lets wastewater plants routinely discharge largely untreated sewage into our lakes, rivers and streams."
A study by scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that most illnesses from waterborne pathogens coincide with heavy rainstorms.
In addition to blending, the EPA estimates that more than 850 billion gallons of completely untreated sewage escapes from aging and inadequate sewage pipes every year before it even reaches treatment plants.
The EPA estimates the cost of eliminating sewage overflows and the need for blending at about $130 billion. Sewage-treatment agencies put the cost at about $200 billion.
On the Net:
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor