June 2019 Vol.74 No. 6

Washington Watch

EPA Develops Water Reuse Action Plan

Stephen Barlas  |  Washington Editor


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun an effort to develop a new program to support water reuse. The agency will be putting together an action plan, based on input from industry groups and local governments, with the intention of using funding provided by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) for whatever types of projects are eventually deemed eligible. Congress provided the EPA with $68 million in funding for WIFIA loans in fiscal 2019, which ends Sept. 30, 2019. 

“One of the four priority areas targeted by EPA in this round covers projects that bring ‘new or innovative approaches including water reuse and recycling,’” explained Dan Hartnett, chief advocacy officer for Legislative and Regulatory Affairs at the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA). “This does not mean that any particular number of reuse projects will be offered a WIFIA loan, but it does indicate that EPA plans to seek out these types of projects.” 

The action plan would presumably provide some guidelines on the types of projects the EPA is looking for and local governments are eager to proceed with. 

But water industry groups are leery of an action plan veering too sharply into federal regulatory waters. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) points out that it advocates that water reuse and recycling initiatives continue to be part of state regulatory frameworks, without federal intervention. 

“There is a concern that federal guidance documents can be inappropriately used to influence permit writers or can be incorporated into federal or state regulatory frameworks,” explained Emily Remmel, NACWA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, in a letter to the EPA. “NACWA strongly advocates that guidance documents, including EPA’s Action Plan on Water Reuse, when finalized, remain voluntary in nature and be used for assistance only.” 

In a March 22, 2019, letter to David Ross, EPA assistant administrator for water, Diane VanDe Hei AMWA CEO, appeared to pour cold water on the notion that water reuse will be particularly popular among communities. She wrote, 

“While some utilities may choose to employ direct and indirect reuse methods and treat water to varying degrees, not all communities may wish to take advantage of water reuse or potable uses,” she wrote. “Important strides have already been made regarding water reuse, but significant work remains to be done. The federal government, and in particular EPA, should focus first on what progress can be made within their own organizations and at their own facilities in order to inspire action among other stakeholders and industries to consider fit-for-purpose applications of water reuse.” 

First Pipeline Safety Bill Introduced 

Two Massachusetts Senators, one of them a Democratic presidential candidate, have introduced the first pipeline safety bill as Congress works to put together legislation reauthorizing the Pipeline Safety Act, which expires on Sept. 30. Other bills will be introduced in the next few months, and the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, named for the young man who died in the Merrimack Valley distribution line explosion in September 2018, will probably be subsumed into a broader bill. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is one of the sponsors of the Rondon bill (S. 1097), which focuses exclusively on distribution line safety and does not lap over to transmission pipelines. But some of the bill’s provision could be adapted to interstate pipelines, as Congress puts together what will be an “omnibus” pipeline bill. However, new safety mandates are likely to be minimal, whether distribution or transmission focused, since many mandates in the 2011 and 2016 bills have never been implemented by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). 

One provision in the bill applies to both intra- and interstate pipelines: an increase in the federal civil penalty limit from $200,000 to $20 million per day and from $2 million to $200 million for a related series of violations. Other provisions in the Rondon bill with the best chance of making it into whatever broader pipeline bill emerges, according to Annie Cook with Troutman Sanders Pipeline Safety Practice Group, include: a requirement to study and report on whether PHMSA should require operators to maintain Pipeline Safety Management Systems in accordance with industry standard RP 1173, and possibly some additional requirements associated with management of change and/or overpressure protection. 

But other pipeline issues may come up, as was the case in the May 1 House hearings in the Energy & Commerce Committee. Besides ticking off the delayed rulemakings from the 2011 and 2016 laws and PHMSA’s failure to implement recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board, Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) brought up a report issued that day by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighting gaps in the security measures used by transmission pipelines and overseen by the Transportation Security Administration. 

“On a bipartisan basis, we invited TSA to testify on its Pipeline Security Program, which the Government Accountability Office has criticized for having ‘significant weaknesses,’” Pallone said. “I’m concerned that TSA lacks the resources, expertise in energy delivery systems and, frankly, commitment, to keep up its obligations under the law.” 

“We are still early in the process for pipeline safety reauthorization,” said Jake Rubin, an American Gas Association spokesman. “Several of the suggestions made by Senator Markey and Congresswoman Trahan are in line with the industry’s continued focus on opportunities to enhance safety, and echo interim recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).” 

The Merrimack explosion was caused by accidentally raising pressure in a Columbia Gas line being abandoned. The cast-iron, low-pressure distribution system was installed in the early 1900s and had been partially improved with both steel and plastic pipe upgrades since the 1950s. Some of the Rondon provisions stem from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations post-Merrimack. 

A second, more-recent NTSB report on a 2016 gas explosion accident gives additional impetus to that bill. Issued in April, that report covers a Maryland explosion in an apartment building which resulted in seven deaths. 

“The NTSB’s investigation highlighted serious flaws in the inspection of service regulators,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt on April 23, 2019. “This tragic event could have been avoided if the necessary checks were done to ensure the safety of the building’s occupants.” 

NTSB investigators concluded that without a requirement for technicians to verify the connection of vent lines for indoor mercury service regulators, such vent lines could inadvertently be left open following service work. However, had methane detectors been installed in the building, an alarm would have alerted residents to a gas release and reduced the potential and consequences of a natural gas explosion. The gas line belonged to Washington Gas. 

Energy Department Offering $24 million in Grants for Pipeline Projects 

The Department of Energy announced it will award $24 million in grants for the development of tools, methods and/or technologies to cost-effectively enhance the safety and efficiency of the nation’s natural gas production, gathering, storage and transmission infrastructure. Grants will be as much as  

$3 million, but no lower than $1 million. 

One area of interest is pipeline materials, advanced coatings, sensors and controls to improve the operational efficiency and reliability of natural gas midstream infrastructure. Another is technologies that can detect, identify and eliminate pipeline defects to improve the safety and efficiency of pipeline operations, reduce the volumes of methane emitted by reducing routine operations-related emissions, and capture and utilize flared or vented natural gas. • 

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