Funding Shortfall Hampers Pennsylvania's Wastewater Cleanup

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, February 23, 2008 (ENS) – The state Senate Republican Policy Committee this week held a hearing on the cost of cleaning up Pennsylvania’s waterways to meet federal Clean Water Act nutrient reduction requirements for the Chesapeake Bay.

The lawmakers noted their disappointment with Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, for not including funding for the initiative in his proposed budget. But the state’s top environmental official blamed Bush administration budget cuts for the funding shortfall.

The 184 wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay drainage area are facing a 2010 court-ordered deadline to upgrade their facilities to meet the federal requirements. In addition, farming operations, developers and municipalities with stormwater issues are also facing new, tougher standards.

Waste water treatment
center in Pennslyvannia

The hearing was held at the request of Senator Patricia Vance, the prime sponsor of Senate Resolution 224 which passed the Senate last week directing the Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to develop a cost estimate for implementing the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy.

Jon Capacasa, director of the Water Protection Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told the panel, “Failure to remove the impairment by 2010 means EPA will develop and enforce a Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL, allocation which will address any shortfall, including measures for point sources if the state designed program is not successful.”

A TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive in one day and still meet federal water quality standards.

If EPA is forced to adopt a TMDL the agency could impose a state-of-the art cleanup technology requirement on the wastewater plants that would impose even heavier burdens on ratepayers.

John Brosious of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, said the estimated cost of complying with the cleanup requirements for the wastewater treatment plants is now over $1.2 billion, significantly higher than the $190 million initial estimate by Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, and more than the $620 million estimate developed by a DEP workgroup last year.

“The federal requirements that are driving Pennsylvania’s obligations are very real and very specific,” Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty reminded the senators. “Pennsylvania must achieve the mandatory nutrient reductions for point sources and nonpoint sources alike, while providing new compliance flexibility.”

“Although there is no doubt that meeting those federal requirements will be a challenge to Pennsylvania, it is also the case that our compliance plan is fair to all sources of bay pollution,” McGinty said. “This strategy was formulated after more than 100 stakeholder meetings across the state, and included specific initiatives to address reductions from point sources and non-point sources in proportion to their relative contributions to the nutrient pollution of the bay.”

Capacasa said the U.S. EPA “applauds the extensive work already accomplished by the Pennsylvania DEP working closely with various municipal organizations to consider the burden on users and to identify several creative options to minimize the user burden.”

McGinty said cutbacks in federal funding for infrastructure have hampered efforts by the state to provide funding needed to implement the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy.

“Recent steep cuts by Congress and the Bush administration to the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which has been a significant part of our water quality improvement efforts for two decades, erode our ability to tackle these serious environmental and economic infrastructure challenges facing all of our communities, as well as the Chesapeake Bay.”

“Pennsylvania’s share of the state revolving fund program has been cut by nearly half in the past three years, down $30 million to $27 million, while the president’s fiscal year 2009 budget calls for another $330 million in cuts to EPA, largely aimed at wastewater projects,” McGinty said.

“The president’s FY 2009 budget requested only $555 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which would be the lowest level of funding for the program in its history if enacted,” she said.

Secretary McGinty said DEP is working to make the cost of compliance cheaper for wastewater treatment plants by implementing the Nutrient Credit Trading Program which now has more than 476,000 pounds of approved nitrogen credits available for purchase.

In October the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority authorized the investment of up to $50 million in federal funds to help jumpstart the nutrient trading program.

McGinty told the panel that Governor Rendell will form a Sustainable Water Infrastructure Task Force soon by executive order that will make recommendations for infrastructure funding across the state in time to be included in his 2009-10 budget request.

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