The situation in Washington D.C. caused by COVID-19 is changing day by day, if not hour by hour. After the initial responses to the current, unparalleled crisis have been addressed, Congress will begin to look to those legislative items that previously had been front and center on the agenda: FY 2020 appropriations, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation this year, PFAS regulation, and other issues.
Just before the coronavirus pandemic, Senate democrats proposed new legislation that would authorize $20 billion to remove PFAS from drinking water. The
PFAS Testing and Treatment Act
(Shaheen (D-N.H.) would provide grants worth $20 billion over 10 years for PFAS treatment. The funds will be allocated by the EPA administrator in rough proportion to the extent of PFAS contamination in each state.
Half of the money would be directed toward removing the chemicals from drinking water supplied by utilities and private wells. The other half would be targeted at cleaning up contaminated groundwater. Due to the diverse funding needs of water systems other than PFAS, there are concerns with the legislation providing such a significant amount.
The state’s response to COVID-19 has been the dominant issue in Sacramento throughout March. On March 4, Governor Newsom issued an emergency proclamation and executive order declaring a state of emergency in California due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
In a more extraordinary step, the Legislature chose to recess its regular session through at least April 13. While the leadership of the Assembly and Senate can call their colleagues back into session, the clear sense was that for the immediate future this would only be done when legislative action was needed in response to the pandemic. While the exact timing for the Legislature’s return to regular business is still unknown, it seems likely that they will continue to be in recess following April 13.
While the Legislature is in recess, their staff are transitioning to remote work.
AB 2560 (Quirk) – Process for Establishing Notification and Response Levels
OCWD is co-sponsoring this bill with the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA). It would establish a basic process for the State Water Board to follow when setting new Notification Levels (NLs) and Response Levels (RLs). As we’ve discussed previously, AB 2560 would require the Board to follow a basic public notification process when considering a new NL or RL, submit draft NLs and RLs for peer review, and ultimately take a formal action to adopt a new NL and RL. By contrast, existing law allows one Deputy Director at the State Water Board to issue a new NL/RL on his or her own without any public notice or action taken by the appointed Board.
We are very excited to have Assemblymember Quirk as the author of AB 2560. As Dr. Quirk has a Ph.D. in astrophysics he understands the importance of basing decisions on sound peer reviewed science. That became apparent when Mike Markus and President Sarmiento met with Dr. Quirk last month. During the meeting, Dr. Quirk was very serious about the need for the bill and was committed to ensuring a better regulatory process. In addition to his background in science, Dr. Quirk is the Chair of the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee (ESTM) which will be AB 2560’s first stop for a hearing. Dr. Quirk’s Chairmanship will also be significant once AB 2560 makes its way into the Senate as Committee Chairs tend to show more respect and deference to their colleagues who Chair the respective Committee in the other house.
In addition to Dr. Quirk, Assemblymembers Daly and Petrie-Norris agreed to co-author AB 2560 and Senator Moorlach will be signing on soon as well.
While OCWD’s staff and consultants wait to learn more about when the Legislature will return and how they will manage their bill loads once they do, OCWD’s consultants will continue to reach out to committee consultants, staff, the SWRCB, and other parties as appropriate in their absence. The District will keep you apprised of those negotiations and meetings as they take place.
SB 996 (Portantino) SWRCB Constituents of Emerging Concern (CEC) Program
This bill is co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and CMUA and would require the SWRCB to establish and then maintain an ongoing, dedicated program for CEC to support and conduct assessments on and provide recommendations of issues with water that may pose a risk to the public.
The State Board would create a Science Advisory Panel to gather and develop information for the program. The bill would require the program to provide opportunities for public participation through the creation of a Stakeholder Advisory Group. The bill would also establish in the State Treasury the CEC Action Fund, which upon appropriation would be administered by the State Board. OCWD has not yet taken a position on SB 996.
Background: Currently, CECs can be regulated by the SWRCB in one of three ways: adoption of federal standards, after the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment sets a public health goal, or by legislative mandate. In addition, the state board can set non-enforceable notification levels and response levels as precautionary advisory measures for contaminants that have not yet undergone or completed the regulatory standard setting process. All of these processes have their own unique challenges and inefficiencies.
The federal process relies upon the Contaminant Candidate List and the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule to identify and collect data on CECs — this process can take several years before a final regulatory decision is made and may not focus on issues specific to California. Similarly, the regulatory development process in California can also be lengthy. Also, while legislative approaches can address public concerns, they can be made without complete information on health effects.