Allegations Taint Good Agency

July 1, 2008
The EPA had a bad week in July. A news item about an email instructing staff not to respond to questions of agency inspector general or GAO investigators didn't instill confidence ...

by Carlos David Mogollón

The EPA had a bad week in July. A news item about an email instructing staff not to respond to questions of agency inspector general or GAO investigators didn't instill confidence in its dedication to safeguarding our environmental health. Nor was it inspiring that key Democratic senators called for EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson's indictment or resignation over allegations he caved to White House pressure on key decisions and lied to Congress about global warming. It also was announced five states would sue the agency over failure to stiffen pollution rules for ships, aircraft and off-road vehicles – a nod to EPA refusal to let California regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions attributed as contributing to climate change.

Bear in mind, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) now chairs the Senate committee overseeing the EPA. And several water industry groups from AWWA to the Water Utility Climate Alliance petitioned Congress on related legislation, saying research is needed to develop and improve climate prediction models, data resources, alternative water sources, new water management techniques, and evaluations of new carbon control technologies to reduce climate change's impact on water resources and the environment.

More curious to me, though, were two other EPA issues. This includes its recent decision to drop 11 substances on the second Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List without regulating them. The contaminants – seven of which will get revised health advisories – include naturally occurring substances, pesticides, herbicides and chemicals used (or once used) in manufacturing. It also includes EPA approval of 99 alternative testing methods for use in measuring contaminant levels in drinking water. In both cases, the decisions may have been perfectly warranted, but other actions of the agency in recent years give one pause at such announcements.

Asked to review a Federal Register notice on the last item, Industrial WaterWorld editorial advisory committee member Tim Schilz, of AquaSensors LLC, said: "I don't think this is a bad thing, but what a change vs. how they used to take forever to get something evaluated (personal experience with a turbidity method in the early 1990s at GLI). Some have questioned if they're sacrificing quality or is EPA possibly compromising its ‘high standards'?

"Frankly, there's a lot of verbiage here explaining how they just want a way to allow other marketed or emerging techniques to be allowed with less ‘red tape'.... Great, I guess. How would we feel, though, if the FDA did the same thing (as if it hasn't) with drugs or food additives?"

In other news, the International Bottled Water Association got snippy with the U.S. Conference of Mayors over a resolution encouraging cities to phase out spending on bottled water and promote municipal water. USCM noted bottled water is sold for up to 4,000 times the cost of tap water delivery while up to 40% has the same source. And cities spend over $70 million a year to dispose of plastic water bottles, in addition to annual municipal contracts for bottled water such as San Francisco's valued at $500,000. IBWA replied: "The resolution is riddled with erroneous statements and errors about bottled water regarding its comprehensive regulation by the FDA, varied product costs and the industry's minimal use of natural resources." Both have points. But, in tough economic times with tight tax revenues, it makes sense for cities to cut superfluous spending from the budget. And both water sources must meet the same standards. It's the taste, silly.

Speaking of bottled water, this month's "Executive Corner" interview is with Basin Water's Dick Stark, who afterward related a few stories from his days with USFilter before it was acquired by Vivendi. He mentioned former USFilter CEO Dick Heckmann was back in the industry, so I looked it up and found that, in May, Heckmann Corp. bought Chinese bottled water distributor China Water & Drinks Inc. for $625 million and, in June, that company acquired a majority stack in Guangzhou Grand Canyon Distilled Water Co. for $19.1 million. Welcome back, Dick.

Carlos David Mogollón, Managing Editor

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