As an alternative to the “command and control” directives that flow from Washington D.C., Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) favors a federalized approach to enforcement of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) that would allow for greater flexibility and autonomy at the local level.
To this end, he has introduced the Clean Water Compliance and Ratepayer Affordability Act of 2013, which would empower local communities with the ability to pursue innovative and cost-effective compliance procedures.
Chabot’s bill creates a pilot program involving 15 communities throughout the country that would work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to shape new compliance programs. Instead of observing costly mandates that actually delay environmental remediation, local communities could pursue less expensive clean-up methods that match up with their particular needs, Chabot told Watchdog.org in an interview.
Under the current regulatory regime, localities are often forced to comply with expensive mandates thanks to the EPA, he explained. Chabot also expressed concern that the mandates, which are often ordered by a federal court decree, do not adequately take into account the severe economic impact mandates have on communities. The “massive, and often-outdated, one-size-fits-all solutions,” that are forced upon localities are not good for the environment or the economy, he added.
“There’s a better way,” Chabot said. “Instead of having the money go toward legal fees, we could direct it toward actual clean-up efforts. That’s the advantage of having an approach that gives communities a little more flexibility. We could have our limited resources go toward improving the environment instead of it being used for legal fees and court costs. A lot of the money just gets eaten up now with bureaucrats fighting each other. That’s no good.”
Chabot credits Democratic Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune for spearheading a bipartisan solution to the challenges and complexities associated with CWA requirements. There is widespread recognition in both parties, Chabot said, for a better partnership between the EPA and state officials where regulatory enforcement is concerned.
The impetus for Chabot’s bill came from “local people” who are concerned about the environment and the need to eliminate sewer overflows and other violations of the CWA, Portune said in an interview.
When the CWA became law over 40 years ago, it was passed with the understanding that there would be a strong, lasting partnership between federal officials and states that yielded environmental benefits, Portune observed.
“From the local perspective, we feel like we are under siege,” he said. “There are people who say the buck stops here in Washington D.C., but really the buck stops here at the local level and we don’t have anyone else we can pass responsibilities off to. We are it, and we bear the brunt of government activity. “
Although the CWA came with the promise of federal money for the states, this has not materialized, Portune noted. Instead the EPA is working in tandem with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), to sue local governments, he laments.
In Hamilton County, for instance, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati has been ordered by way of a consent decree, to construct over $3.2 billion in sewer improvements in order to meet CWA requirements. Here’s the problem. Residents and businesses in Hamilton County are confronting rising sewer costs that could become more acute over time in the absence of significant policy changes, according to a press release from Chabot’s office. Sewer rates have already risen 130 percent over the past nine years, the release said.
Under Chabot’s Bill, pilot communities would benefit from extended terms for CWA permits and consent decree modifications that alleviate financial burdens.
“Everybody wins under this common-sense approach,” Chabot said. “By allowing the EPA to work more effectively with pilot communities, residents of those communities should get cleaner water at a lower cost. And, hopefully, the pilot program will demonstrate to Congress, the affected states and the EPA how the resulting innovative approaches can be used on a broader scale to achieve the same or better water quality results for a smaller investment of local taxpayer dollars.”
Chabot’s legislation dovetails with a new report from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Assault on State Sovereignty.” The report documents “EPA power grabs,” which have increased dramatically in just the past few years. William Yeatman, an assistant director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) who authored the report, says the EPA has largely usurped what should be state functions.
“In the spirit of cooperative federalism, Congress intended for states and the EPA to work together to ensure environmental protection of the nation,” he wrote. “Instead of collaboration, however, the EPA since 2009 has adopted a confrontational relationship with the states. With increasing frequency, the agency is disapproving state initiatives to comply with the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Outright takeovers of state regulatory programs have skyrocketed, too. Perhaps worst of all, the EPA is using a technique known as “sue and settle” to eliminate states from the environmental policymaking process, replacing them with environmental organizations.”