Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pallone Leads House Democrats in Introducing Comprehensive Update to Safe Drinking Water Act

September 22, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC — Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) partnered with other safe drinking water advocates in the House today to introduce the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 2016. The bill would make comprehensive changes to ensure safer drinking water for communities nationwide. The proposal would be the first major update to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in twenty years.

When SDWA was last updated in 1996, particularly high procedural hurdles were created that have prevented the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from setting drinking water standards over the past 20 years. Today’s proposal removes those onerous procedural hurdles and sets deadlines for the development of standards on known dangers including: lead, perchlorate, perfluorinated compounds, and algal toxins. The bill would also provide grants for replacement of lead service lines in schools and communities and grants to make water systems more resilient to climate change and extreme weather.

The new legislation takes steps to address the numerous cases of water contamination that have been reported throughout New Jersey. This week the Environmental Working Group reported that hexavalent chromium, a metal that can cause cancer, has been found in drinking water throughout the state. Hexavalent chromium can cause lung cancer if its crystals are inhaled and stomach tumors if consumed, according to federal health officials. But EPA has not set a federal standard for hexavalent chromium in drinking water, in part because of the procedural hurdles in current law.

Additionally, dozens of New Jersey schools have reported lead levels over the federal action level this year. Congressman Pallone has already taken steps to address these issues by introducing the AQUA Act and he announced legislation to repair school water fountains earlier this month. The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 2016 includes both pieces of legislation, as well as several new proposals to identify and address lead problems in schools.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act has not been updated for 20 years, which has put our drinking water at risk,” Pallone said. “The crisis in Flint has highlighted the need for action, but water systems nationwide are in dire need of dramatic improvements, including many in my home state of New Jersey. This comprehensive legislation provides the tools and resources that state and local governments need to ensure the public is provided with clean, safe drinking water. I commend the thoughtful work of so many of my Democratic colleagues in helping to craft this comprehensive bill.”

“Nobody denies the importance of water,” Tonko said. “From keeping us healthy and alive to supporting local jobs across the country, water is a fundamental building block to a productive society. Water main breaks can bring everyday life to a screeching halt, while natural disasters including water can destroy homes and take innocent lives from us. Water is not a partisan issue. It is time we are honest and straightforward about the funding levels and other reforms required to bring our water infrastructure into the 21st century. I thank Ranking Member Pallone for his work on what should be a top priority for all of us here in Congress.”

The bill proposes a comprehensive update to existing drinking water standards in addition to improving the resiliency and security of water infrastructure by:

  •  empowering EPA to set much needed drinking water standards;
  •  requiring water systems to address risks to their source water from climate change, industrial activity, and terrorism;
  •  authorizing new investments in lead line replacement, climate resiliency, monitoring technology, and overall drinking water infrastructure;
  •  and improving compliance and community right to know.

The comprehensive legislation draws on ideas from a number of House Democrats who have introduced bills and put forward ideas on drinking water including from Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Lois Capps (D-CA), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), John Garamendi (D-CA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

The proposal also has widespread support from safe drinking water and environmental advocates including the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Environmental Working Group, and Environmental Integrity Project.

“From Flint to Toledo to Charleston, the clean water of too many communities across the country has been jeopardized by decades of ignoring and underinvesting in our water infrastructure and drinking water programs,” said Madeleine Foote, Legal Representative for League of Conservation Voters. “The legislation introduced today, led by Representatives Frank Pallone and Paul Tonko, takes a tremendous step forward in improving infrastructure and safeguarding drinking water, including by providing schools with the resources they need to protect our children from lead; spurring research into innovative technologies, such as those to increase efficiency and find new methods to combat emerging pollutants; and encouraging communities and water utilities to plan for the impacts of climate change. Every member of the House should support this legislation and work to ensure that no one has to worry that the water coming from their tap is poisoning their family.”

A one-pager of the bill is available here.
A section-by-section of the bill is available here.
The legislative text of the bill is available here.

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