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HQ Memo to Regions Supports Integrated Planning to Achieve Clean Water Goals

An October 27 Memorandum from Cynthia Giles, Assistant EPA Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, and Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, proclaims the support of EPA senior management for an integrated approach municipal stormwater and wastewater management.

Significantly, the memorandum acknowledges that many states and local governments are facing financial difficulties due to the recession and that these circumstances should be considered in determining how to make the most cost-effective investments.  It also states that integrated planning does not imply that water quality standards or regulations will be lowered.  Rather, integrated planning will “help municipalities responsibly meet their CWA obligations by maximizing their infrastructure improvement dollars though the appropriate sequencing of work.”  Further, “integrated planning can lead to the identification of sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure, that improve water quality” while also providing other community benefits.

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, Region III Administrator Shawn Garvin, Giles and Stoner, met with members of the US Conference of Mayors Urban Water Council and key outside experts, including WEF, on October 28 to discuss the memorandum and plans for moving forward.   A senior Agency official told the group that “there is no more important relationship” for EPA than that with municipalities, and that the Agency is committed to “finding a more effective way to achieve (CWA) goals.” 

The October 28 session capped off a series of meetings over the past 24 months where the Mayors group made the case to EPA for increased flexibility and ability to set priorities as part of CSO/SSO enforcement efforts.  This included a January 2010 meeting with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and a December 2010 meeting with technical staff from EPA and municipalities. 

To implement this new policy direction, EPA will develop of a new framework that identifies the essential components of an integrated plan, describes a process for identifying communities that might benefit from an integrated approach, and spells out how integrated plans can be implemented within the existing CWA enforcement and permit regime.  Once the framework is in draft form, EPA plans to hold meetings with states and local governments, utilities and environmental groups to obtain their feedback. EPA also hopes to identify cities with integrated plans that can serve as models for others.

Although reaction to the new EPA directive was generally positive, some participants in the October 28 meeting expressed concern that cities are seeking more than extended compliance schedules or “sequencing” of multiple requirements.  They believe cities should be given the opportunity to make the case for choosing to make some investments, and not make others, if water quality and economic circumstances dictate.  In response, EPA said that they believe there is sufficient flexibility in existing regulations to allow for consideration of financial capability issues.  Enforcement officials also signaled their intention to have the new framework apply to settled enforcement actions as well as current or future actions.  This means cities could ask to have their Consent Decrees reopened if they think they have a better plan to propose.

EPA says it will post additional information on this effort, as it becomes available, at this link