by Carolyn Berndt
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new Integrated Planning policy to help state and local governments identify opportunities to achieve clean water by controlling and managing releases of wastewater and stormwater runoff more efficiently and cost effectively. In a memo issued jointly by the EPA Offices of Water and Enforcement and Compliance to EPA Regional Administrators, the agency expressed its commitment to and support for working with state and local governments on a new comprehensive and integrated planning approach to implement "the most important projects first."
"EPA is firmly committed to helping local governments identify opportunities to achieve clean water using a comprehensive integrated planning approach," EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said. "An integrated approach allows communities to prioritize their investments to address the most serious water issues first and provides flexibility to use innovative, cost-effective storm- and wastewater management solutions - including green infrastructure."
The memo acknowledges that many states and local governments are facing difficult financial conditions and that their ability to finance improvements by raising revenues or issuing bonds has been significantly impacted during the economic recovery.
"In embracing an integrated approach to waste and stormwater management we are not suggesting that existing regulatory or permitting standards that protect public health and water on which communities depend be lowered. Rather, we are simply suggesting that such an approach will help municipalities responsibly meet their [Clean Water Act] obligations by maximizing their infrastructure improvement dollars through the appropriate sequencing of work," the memo states.
EPA is developing an integrated planning approach framework to help the agency work with state and local governments. The framework will spell out: 1) the essential components of an integrated plan; 2) steps for identifying municipalities that might best make use of such an approach; and 3) how best to implement the plans with state partners under the Clean Water Act permit and enforcement programs.
Once the draft framework is complete, EPA plans to hold meetings with states and local governments, utilities and environmental groups to obtain feedback.
At the Congress of Cities, the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee will consider a resolution pertaining to regulatory prioritization, calling on Congress and the Administration to establish a regulatory approach based on principles of affordability and financial capability, while maximizing environmental benefit, to meet the requirements and objectives of the Clean Water Act.
Details: For more information, and to read the EPA memo, visit http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/integratedplans.cfm.