AWWA, partner water groups urge continued talks to avert nationwide rail strike AWWA and five other major water service organizations urged the Biden Administration to continue to facilitate talks among rail companies and rail unions to avert a national strike that would cripple delivery of crucial water treatment products. The Nov. 4 letter was addressed to the White House, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. It noted, “The good work done so far is reflected in six unions having agreed to the pact developed under the Presidential Emergency Board. However, with two unions voting against the agreement, and other unions unlikely to cross picket lines, the threat of a strike remains. In addition, we anticipate that rail companies will begin slowing down shipment of water treatment products in advance of an actual strike in order to avoid stranding shipped products in unsecured locations.” Two more major unions are scheduled to vote Nov. 17 on a contract hammered out in September. If the contract is voted down then, there may still be a short period before an actual strike begins, thus allowing time for Congress to get involved. AWWA is preparing a letter to Congress and a membership alert in case further actions are needed. EPA releases Build America, Buy America guidance The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week released its own guidance for complying with the Build America, Buy America (BABA) requirements incorporated into last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law . The document describes EPA programs covered by the law, waiver request procedures, products covered, documentation requirements, and includes a template for a construction contract clause for BABA compliance. In conjunction with the release of this guidance, EPA is inviting representatives of state agencies, state associations and EPA regional offices to participate in a webinar on Tuesday, Nov. 15, from 2-4 p.m. ET. Registration is required . More webinars are planned. The U.S. White House Office of Management and Budget issued guidance last April and EPA was tasked with developing its own, tailored to the programs it administers, such as the state revolving loan fund (SRF) program and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. AWWA seeks withdrawal of PFAS proposal AWWA called on EPA to withdraw and address problematic issues in the agency’s proposal to designate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) in formal comments submitted Monday. Other groups, including AWWA sections, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties, made similar recommendations . The organizations highlighted issues with the proposal such as the lack of a thorough and complete cost analysis of the rule’s impact, and the need for a consideration of impacts on small entities and local governments. CERCLA imposes retroactive, strict, and joint and several liability on parties that disposed, stored, transported, or arranged for the management of hazardous substances, when those substances are a part of a clean-up site. Water systems can and have been sued under CERCLA for cleanup costs. AWWA continues to advocate for Congress to provide an exemption for water systems. EPA received more than 62,500 comments on this proposal. It plans to finalize this rulemaking by August 2023. AWWA criticizes risk management proposal AWWA provided sharp criticism of EPA’s proposal to amend requirements under the Risk Management Plan (RMP) of the Clean Air Act, saying, “we found so many flaws in EPA’s analysis and places where EPA failed to make use of its own internal data that we are concerned more generally that EPA has not properly consulted with its own subject matter experts to understand the implications that this Proposed Rule would have on regulated entities.” The association urged EPA to revisit the proposed rule with appropriate offices within EPA and provide the public a chance to comment on the underlying technical documents used to develop the rule. Further, AWWA said the proposed rule’s use of cost-benefit analysis was so flawed, the proposal is legally vulnerable and could violate the Clean Air Act and the Administrative Procedures Act. The comment period for the proposal closed Oct. 31, and the agency received almost 58,000 comments. The proposal included concepts that were included in an Obama Administration RMP rulemaking, which were subsequently revised by the Trump Administration. These latest comments pointed out that the water sector has a proven track record of safely handing the chemicals covered by RMP rules, as was emphasized in earlier comments . EPA anticipates finalizing this rulemaking in August 2023. Fifth Contaminant Candidate List available EPA’s recently released Fifth Contaminant Candidate List (CCL5) comprises 66 named chemicals, a group of at least four cyanotoxins, a group of 23 unregulated disinfection byproducts (DBPs), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) (i.e., currently estimated to be roughly 12,000 chemicals ) chemicals and 12 microbes (including eight bacteria, three viruses and one protozoa). The list is substantially the same as proposed in July 2021. The definition of PFAS in this list is broader than the one initially proposed, keeping with recommendations from a broad array of stakeholders, including the drinking water community. EPA was careful in the proposed and final CCL5 to frame cyanotoxins broadly with four named examples -- Anatoxin-a, cylindrospermopsin, microcystins and saxitoxin. Also of significance is the fact that the CCL5 list of microbes focuses on specific species of Legionella and Mycobacteria that are known to contribute to morbidity rather than a broader genus-level listing. Upcoming EPA financial guidance questioned AWWA joined four other organizations in urging EPA to not finalize the current version of the agency’s Financial Capability Assessment Guidance (FCA). Others joining in the letter were the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, National Association of Clean Water Agencies and the Water Environment Federation. They asked the agency to not issue this guidance, engage in further discussions and then re-propose guidance. The water organizations said that based on conversations with EPA staff, the update to the 1997 guidance was going to fall “well short” of meeting the expectations of those calling for an update. “Communities have committed to rate structures and construction plans – spanning one to two decades or more of required spending for their communities – based in part on the FCA. In some communities, this has put the lowest income earners in a position where they are being asked to spend a significant percentage of their income (in some cases as high as 20% or more) just for water and sewer services. For nearly two decades, water organizations, financial experts (including the Agency’s Environmental Financial Advisory Board), Congress and others have recognized that changes were needed to ensure the FCA better accounted for these impacts on low-income ratepayers.” The letter also pointed out that the groups signing the letters and others had worked with the agency to develop an update to the guidance. However, that guidance was “fundamentally changed without meaningful engagement or input from any of the undersigned organizations…” Advisory council to hold open M/DBP meeting The National Drinking Water Advisory Council Microbial/Disinfection Byproduct Rule Revisions Working Group will meet on Dec. 13, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. Registration for members of the public to listen to the virtual meeting is now available here . The meeting discussion will focus on the Surface Water Treatment Rules, the Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rules, and related interdependencies. A future meeting is tentatively planned for Jan. 24. First WIFIA loan in Texas closes The City of Pflugerville , Texas, has become the first entity in Texas to receive a loan under the federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), receiving $52 million in loans to expand its drinking water treatment works. Using these funds, the city will upgrade the raw and finished water pump stations, install new pretreatment, filtration, and solids handling technologies, and provide a more efficient disinfection process. These actions are aimed at helping the system address compliance with the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule and increasing overall system resiliency. The project will increase treatment capacity from 17.7 million gallons a day to 30 million gallons daily to meet projected demand through 2050. EPA estimates the city is saving $13.2 million by utilizing WIFIA. The agency said 325 jobs will be created. EPA issues list of Environmental Finance Centers EPA has issued a list of 29 institutions selected as Environmental Finance Centers (EFCs) to help communities across the country access federal funding - such as that found in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other federal programs - for infrastructure and greenhouse gas reduction projects that improve public health and environmental protection. “The EFCs will deliver targeted technical assistance to local governments, states, Tribes, and non-governmental organizations to protect public health, safeguard the environment, and advance environmental justice,” according to an agency statement. The centers are administered under EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Resiliency Center .