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Dear Mr. Chairman:
As you know, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been conducting a thorough review of the appropriate standard for arsenic in drinking water, based upon the best available science. Throughout this process, I have made it clear that EPA intends to strengthen the standard for arsenic by substantially lowering the maximum acceptable level from 50 parts per billion (ppb), which has been the lawful limit for nearly half a century.
I can now report that the drinking water standard for arsenic will be 10 ppb, and we will maintain the compliance date of 2006. This standard will improve the safety of drinking water for millions of Americans, and better protect against the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
As required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, a standard of 10 ppb protects public health based on the best available science and ensures that the cost of the standard is achievable. Over the past several months, we have had the benefit of insight provided by national experts who conducted three new independent scientific studies -- the National Academy of Sciences, the National Drinking Water Advisory Council, and EPA's Science Advisory Board. In addition, we have received more than 55,000 comments from the public.
Nearly 97 percent of the water systems affected by this rule are small systems that serve fewer than 10,000 people each. I recognize the challenges many small systems will face in complying with this standard, given their higher per capita costs. Therefore I am committed to working closely with states and small water systems to identify ways to reduce arsenic levels at a reasonable cost to ratepayers.
EPA plans to provide $20 million over the next two years for research and development of more cost-effective technologies to help small systems to meet the new standard. EPA will also provide technical assistance and training to operators of small systems, which will reduce their compliance costs. EPA will work with small communities to maximize grants and loans under the existing State Revolving Fund and Rural Utilities Service programs of the Department of Agriculture. Finally, I have directed my staff to identify other ways that we may help smaller water systems reduce arsenic levels at a reasonable cost. Our goal is to provide clean, safe, and affordable drinking water to all Americans.
I look forward to working with Congress; my colleagues in the Administration; state, local and tribal governments; and other interested parties as we move forward with this protective standard. It's not enough just to set the right standard - we want to work with local communities to help them meet it. Working together, we can ensure the continuing viability of small, rural water systems, and meet our common goal of improving water quality and protecting public health.
Christine Todd Whitman