House Introduces Drinking Water Security Bill
On July 20, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry A. Waxman, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chair Edward J. Markey, along with Reps. Frank Pallone, Jan Schakowsky, Lois Capps, and John Sarbanes introduced the Drinking Water System Security Act of 2009.
The bill would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish risk-based performance standards for community water systems serving more than 3,300 people and certain other public water systems with security risks.
"This important legislation will better help us protect and secure our nation from potential acts of terrorism against our nation's drinking water facilities," said Waxman. "We are introducing this bill with the support of the largest water utilities as well as environmental and labor groups. This broad coalition shows that this bill provides a common-sense approach to securing America's drinking water."
Drinking water facilities often use or store chemicals that, if released, can form toxic clouds that endanger surrounding communities. Terrorists could also potentially steal chemicals from these facilities to create an improvised weapon of mass destruction. Drinking water facilities also face the unique threat of terrorists contaminating the drinking water supply, endangering the health of thousands or millions of people.
In 2006, as part of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security to issue chemical facility security regulations that exempted drinking water and wastewater facilities. The Drinking Water System Security Act authorizes EPA to strengthen security at drinking water systems in the United States under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The legislation would require:
- EPA to assign covered water systems to one of four risk-based tiers, ranging from tier 1, the highest-risk systems, to tier 4, the lowest-risk of the covered water systems.
- covered water systems to identify vulnerabilities and develop site security plans to addresses those vulnerabilities and meet risk-based security standards, which vary by tier.
- all covered water systems with dangerous chemicals in amounts higher than federal thresholds to assess whether they can switch to safer chemicals or processes to reduce the consequences of an act of terrorism. Since the states implement the Safe Drinking Water Act everywhere but Wyoming and Washington, D.C., states have authority to require facilities in the two highest-risk tiers to switch to safer chemicals or processes if technologically and economically feasible, and if doing so will not result in unsafe drinking water.
- that covered water systems include employees in the development of security vulnerability assessments and site security plans and that they receive the training necessary to perform their duties under the plans.
- EPA to develop standards to protect security-related information while encouraging the proper sharing of this information among those with an official need to know. The bill would set criminal penalties for purposeful, unlawful disclosure of this protected information.
According to the press release, the legislation has support from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. This group represents 190 member utilities, including the largest publicly owned drinking water systems in the United States that serve more than 125 million Americans.
Other groups endorsing the bill include: Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, The Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., Environment America, Environmental Health Fund, Environmental Health Strategy Center of Maine, Greenpeace, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, New Jersey Work Environment Council, OMB Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, United Steelworkers, and U.S. PIRG.