EPA publishes proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements On Dec. 6, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) in the Federal Register . Prior to the rule’s publication, AWWA issued a utility advisory detailing changes included in the proposed LCRI, summary documents provided by EPA, and a preliminary schedule for finalizing the rule. AWWA also issued an initial public statement . Comments on the LCRI are due no later than Feb. 5, 2024 ( Docket #: EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0801 ). Systems may also register here to provide verbal comments during a virtual public hearing scheduled for Jan. 16, 2024. OMB begins review of rule to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA The White House Office of Management and Budget has begun interagency review of EPA’s final rule to designate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) as hazardous substances under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). AWWA and other water associations have raised significant concerns with the rule’s potential impacts to “passive receivers” of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including water and wastewater systems. The Water Coalition Against PFAS, of which AWWA is a member, has met with dozens of congressional offices to request liability protections for water and wastewater systems from CERCLA liability pertaining to PFAS contamination. Without these liability protections, manufacturers and polluters will look to offset their own financial responsibility by pointing the finger at water systems and their ratepayers. It is not clear how long the interagency review will take, but EPA expects to meet an internal deadline to promulgate the rule by March 2024. AWWA urges members to ask their representatives in Congress to support an exemption for water and wastewater systems from CERCLA liability pertaining to PFAS contamination under CERCLA. Iranian and Russian cyber attackers target critical infrastructure A water utility in Pennsylvania is one of several entities impacted by the Iranian group known as “CyberAv3ngers”. This group has been actively targeting and compromising Israeli-made Unitronics Vision Series programmable logic controllers (PLCs). An advisory issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), National Security Agency (NSA), EPA, and the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) highlights continued malicious cyber activity against operational technology devices. These PLCs are commonly used in multiple sectors including water, energy, food and beverage manufacturing, and health care. These compromised devices were publicly exposed to the internet with default passwords unchanged, which allowed the attacker to deface the device. All entities are advised to change default passwords, ensure that devices are not on publicly facing internet connections, and use multifactor authentication to control access. Federal officials have also issued an advisory to raise awareness of the specific spear-phishing techniques used by a Russian-based threat actor group known as “Star Blizzard” that has targeted individuals and organizations globally. In a spear-phishing campaign, an actor perceives its target to have direct access to information of interest, be an access vector to another target, or both. Star Blizzard creates email accounts impersonating known contacts of its targets to help appear legitimate. It also creates fake social media or networking profiles that impersonate respected experts and have used supposed conference or event invitations as lures. Several actions can help defend against the activity described in this advisory, including: Use strong passwords Use multi-factor authentication Protect your devices and networks by keeping them up to date Exercise vigilance Enable your email providers’ automated email scanning features Disable mail-forwarding Deadline fast approaching for BABA RFI The 30-day comment period on EPA’s “ Request for Information Regarding Products and Categories of Products Used in Water Infrastructure Programs ” will end in less than two weeks ( Docket #: EPA-HQ-OW-2023-0396 ). On Nov. 20, EPA solicited information from the water sector on the supply of “products used in the construction, alteration, and/or maintenance of water infrastructure” with respect to Build America Buy America Act implementation. Judge in AFFF MDL issues clarifying order With the deadline to opt out of AFFF multi-district litigation (MDL) quickly approaching, U.S. District Judge Mark Gergel issued a Dec. 5 order describing factors for prospective water district settlement class members to consider before deciding how to proceed. In the order, Judge Gergel clarifies that a water district which opts out of the proposed settlement will remain in the MDL for the foreseeable future, delaying the prospect of returning to the district court from which the case was transferred to the MDL. Gergel also advised water districts that opt out of the MDL to expect final disposition of their individual cases to take up to a decade due to docket schedules and likely appeals. The current deadline to opt out of the settlement with the 3M company is Dec. 11, 2023. Information on the settlements is available at https://www.pfaswatersettlement.com/ . EPA issues guidance on NPDES discharges EPA has issued draft guidance on National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting of certain discharges through groundwater to surface waters. The new draft guidance comes as a result of a 2020 Supreme Court ruling entitled “ County of Maui, Hawaii versus Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al ,” which held that point source discharges to a water of the United States through groundwater require an NPDES permit if the discharge is the “functional equivalent” of a direct discharge. The guidance does not create new regulation, nor is it binding, but it does provide some additional clarity on how EPA will likely view the seven factors discussed by the Supreme Court. EPA is accepting comment on the Maui guidance through Regulations.gov until Dec. 27, 2023. Fifth National Climate Assessment released The U.S Global Change Research Program, a collaboration of 14 federal agencies, recently issued its fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5). This assessment provides an overview of the latest science regarding nearly every aspect of climate change, including a national overview, sector and issue specific summaries (including water, human health, and the built environment) and 10 geographic regional summaries. NCA5, which includes detailed “traceable accounts” that document the evidence behind each major claim made within it, can be used as a resource by those seeking updated information on this important issue. FEMA announces multiple funding opportunities The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Direct Technical Assistance (BRIC DTA) initiative provides tailored support to communities and tribal nations that may not have the resources to begin climate resilience planning and project solution design on their own. The wide-ranging non-financial support Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides to BRIC DTA communities includes climate risk assessments, community engagement, partnership building, and mitigation and climate adaptation planning. Interested communities and tribes are asked to submit a BRIC Direct Technical Assistance Request Form which is open until Feb. 29, 2024. FEMA has also published new resources to assist communities in developing BRIC and Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) Grants. A total of $1.8 billion is being made available for 2023 fiscal year between the two programs. In addition, the Flood Mitigation Assistance Swift Current program is offering $300 million after flood disasters to speed up the delivery of funding for eligible individual flood mitigation projects involving repetitively flooded or substantially damaged properties. Local governments should consult with their state, tribal, or territorial agencies to confirm the deadline to submit sub-applications for their consideration.