Wednesday, July 28, 2010

EPW Water Security Hearing

Today the Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held their first hearing on chemical security issues at water treatment and waste water treatment facilities. While Chairman Lautenberg (D, NJ) assured Ranking Member Inhofe (R, OK) at the start of the hearing that this was an oversight hearing, it was quite obvious from Lautenberg’s questions of each of the witnesses that this was really a hearing on S 3598, the Water Facility Security Act. If you had listened to the HR 2868 hearings last year in the House, nothing here would have been surprising in the testimony about requiring facilities to consider and implement inherently safer technology techniques to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack. Sen. Lautenberg was stead fast in his support for requiring facilities to switch away from the use of gaseous chlorine as were his Democratic colleagues. Sen. Inhofe stressed his belief that facilities should be the ones to make the decision to implement such changes. EPA Supports HR 3598 Cynthia Dougherty, Director of the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, was clear in the Administration’s support of a qualified IST mandate for the highest risk facilities and the importance of bringing water facilities under a clear chemical security program mandate. In her responses to Sen. Lautenberg’s questions she expressed the Administration’s almost totally unswerving support for S 3598. Ms Dougherty did admit under questioning by Sen. Inhofe that the Department does not currently have the resources to implement HR 3598, but would presumably get those resources in subsequent authorization legislation. Public Witnesses The only witness with any objection to the IST mandate included in S 3598 was Benjamin Grumbles, Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. He cautioned that utility management was in the best position to evaluate whether or not it would be feasible for the facility to switch away from gaseous chlorine. He did acknowledge that given the States’ role envisioned in the enforcement of S 3598 he thought that they would be responsive to facility level decisions. The only ‘industry’ witness was not from a water utility but rather a supplier of one of the alternative technologies that would presumably be chosen to replace gaseous chlorine. Carlos Perea, CEO of Miox Corporation, made it very clear that the on-sight generators that his company and their competitors produce would provide a safer alternative to the current use of gaseous chlorine. The only potential negative for such systems was raised by Mr. Grumbles when he noted that utilities would have to look at the electrical requirements for the operation of that equipment. The other two witnesses were well known on both sides of this debate having appeared before similar hearings in the past. Paul Orum, representing the Blue Green Chemical Security Coalition (and author of the 2008 CAP report ‘Chemical Security 101”) painted a clear picture of the position of the environmental activist communities. Dr. Darius Savin, representing the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), made clear that labor unions were supporting the IST provisions of S 3598. Dr. Savin did, however, point out some short comings in that bill concerning inadequate labor participation in the security process that he thought needed correcting. Procedural Surprise The only surprise in this hearing was a simple procedural issue. The EPW Committee web site billed this as a full committee hearing, and it wasn’t. The only members present were from Sen. Lautenberg’s subcommittee. Actually it is normal for a Subcommittee to hold the initial hearing on an important piece of legislation like this, especially since the Chair was its author. I had assumed that Chairwoman Boxer had decided to skip that formality due to the late date in the Session so that this bill could be moved forward for quick consideration. It now appears that this bill may not be destined for the quick consideration that seemed to be in its future. That significantly reduces the chance of this bill getting to the floor of the Senate before full scale electioneering puts an effective damper on all controversial legislation.

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