January, 2003 Washington News
New Leader = New Approaches at EPW Committee
The Bush administration's policy of moving away from
increased regulations in pursuit of clean-water goals is receiving a major boost
in the change of leadership of the Senate Environment and Public Works.
Republicans will take over majority control of the Senate
from Democrats this month, and Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., will become
chairman of the environmental panel, succeeding Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt.
In a statement outlining his goals as chairman of the
committee, Inhofe said that he wanted to "create fiscally responsible
policies that are based on sound science and proper cost-benefit analysis. . .
. Continuing strong environmental protection means not just passing new laws,
but also ensuring strong oversight to examine how existing laws are being
Inhofe said his specific priorities will include pending
legislation to expand federal support for renewal and expansion of the nation's
Inhofe Opposes Davis-Bacon Provision
One area where Sen. Inhofe disagrees with old EPW leadership
is a requirement in the water-infrastructure legislation for application of the
Davis-Bacon Act in all water works contracts. This Depression-era measure
requires payment of "prevailing wages" in a region on projects
involving federal funds. Critics say that in reality it mandates payment of
union-scale wages that add substantially to project costs.
Incoming Chairman Inhofe said in opposing the Davis-Bacon
provision that it would add nearly 40 percent to construction costs and that
states and localities should be free to "find the best labor at the best
TMDL Policy to Include Water-Quality Trading
The top water-policy official at the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) has indicated that water-quality trading procedures
will be key elements of revised Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) regulations
aimed at point and nonpoint pollution.
G. Tracy Mehan, assistant EPA administrator for water, said
that trading is among the market-based approaches needed to maintain progress
in battling water pollution.
He said his agency was on schedule to revise the TMDL
regulations within 18 months. "I believe it is imperative that formal
provisions for trading must be developed within this timeframe to establish a
clear basis for trading and to facilitate implementation of TMDLs across the
nation," he added.
Trading is an arrangement under which anti-pollution goals
can be met by allowing parties that exceed requirements to trade their
"surpluses" to parties that fall below the designated standards.
Mehan noted that "trading is not a right to pollute. . . . It simply
allows a source to meet a regulatory obligation by using allocations or
pollution reduction credits created by another source. . . ."
EPA Issues New WET Rule
EPA has issued a final rule updating test methods for Whole
Effluent Toxicity (WET). The regulation applies to procedures used in gathering
data and monitoring compliance under the Clean Water Act.
The basic WET rule deals with methods for measuring acute
and short-term chronic toxicity of effluents and receiving waters to
freshwater, marine and estuarine organisms.
GAO Frowns on Shift of EPA Official
A congressional agency is urging EPA to reconsider its
decision to puts the agency's ombudsman under its inspector general.
The General Accounting Office, which monitors how federal
departments carry out laws enacted by Congress, said that subordinating the
ombudsman to the inspector general raises questions about the former's
independence. The change also compromises the ability of the inspector general
to independently monitor and investigate the ombudsman, the office said.
In response, EPA stood by its decision to relocate the
office of the ombudsman, whose mission is to provide an independent
investigation of complaints about the agency.
Grants Finance Watershed Classification
EPA now is receiving proposals on a project to classify
watersheds. State and local governments, universities and nonprofit
organizations can apply for the research grants that can reach a total of
$900,000 over three years for each recipient. The funds will be used to design
water monitoring programs, prioritize impaired watersheds for restoration and
diagnose declines in the watersheds' variety of marine organisms.
Classification systems developed with the grants will enable
watersheds throughout the country to improve their management, undertake risk
prevention programs and track specific pollutants.
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Climate Center Reports on Drought
Heavy rain during autumn eliminated most of the drought
conditions along the Eastern Seaboard, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC)
While aquifers and reservoirs in a few areas remained below
normal, "even the deeper wells started to recover during November,"
the center said.
The CPC outlook is for above-normal precipitation in the
southeast through the winter, bringing further recovery from the drought.
The center, a unit of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
provided the following assessment for other sections of the country through
Southwest/Central Plains--Drought conditions will ease as El
Niño brings above-normal precipitation.
Eastern Great Lakes Region--Drought expected to continue and
even worsen southward and westward because of below-normal precipitation.
Locally heavy, lake-effect snow may bring relief to some parts of the region.
Northern/Northwest Rocky Mountains--Below-normal
precipitation and continued drought for much of the region, with dry conditions
expected to continue northward expansion to Canadian border.
Northern Great Basin-Colorado-Northern Plains--Winter
precipitation for this area has equal chances of being above or below normal,
but overall outlook is for easing of drought conditions. Improvement will not
equal that expected farther south, where El Niño conditions should have
Hawaii--Below-normal rainfall and increased drought
For the West generally, CPC said, water supply and drought
impacts will depend on cumulative precipitation over the entire snow season,
not just immediate months ahead.
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