Heavy Water: EPA, Justice Impose Regulations Through Court Settlements
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There’s a new Aquaman and Aqualad dynamic duo out there, but instead of fighting crimes, they are fighting cash-strapped cities and mayors, according to this item in the Wall Street Journal.
“The Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency have taken enforcement actions against 25 cities over the last four years for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act, and there are another 772 on their list. In addition to imposing millions of dollars in penalties, the feds have forced these cities into consent decrees that will cost their local taxpayers $21 billion. The decrees spell out in detail what capital upgrades they must undertake—everything down to the size of their pipes.”
Consent decrees work a lot like the sue-and-settle strategy employed by environmental and advocacy groups -- use the federal regulatory process to force overly burdensome regulations onto business.
Only this time, it's the federal government using the regulatory process on cities. From Alaska to Florida, cities and municipalities are paying millions in legal fees fighting a federal lawsuit only to be forced into a consent decree with the agencies. As the Alaska Dispatch reports:
The consent decree, which avoids a trial, requires the city to spend tens of millions of dollars on new water and sewer facilities, and will require a steep increase in utility rates paid by property owners.
One town in Kentucky has had to get a $1 million loan. In Unalaska, Alaska, the city council is considering asking voters to approve a 1% increase in the local sales tax to pay for the upgrades. Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. is trying to figure out how to pay for his new federally-imposed upgrade obligations, according to WLBT.com:
"It's a lot of money and a rate increase concerns me. It concerns people who are in the system, but we're trying to do all we can to make sure that we don't dig any deeper into the pockets of ratepayers," said Mayor Johnson.
As the Wall Street Journal points out,many cities are already making big improvements to their infrastructure in ways that are more efficient than what the EPA is mandating:
Many cities have already taken concrete steps to reduce such overflows by developing "green infrastructure" (i.e., permeable pavements, rain gardens, catch-basins) that soaks up and diverts stormwater. Such solutions are easier and less expensive to implement than reconstructing their underground systems as the EPA wants them to do....
Cities are spending twice as much on water treatment as they did in 1995 and have reduced the contaminants they discharge into waterways during dry weather by 85%. Even so, the EPA says they need to spend at least $300 billion more on maintenance and upgrades to meet the agency's ever-stricter standards.
Maybe we need a new superhero called Unfunded Mandate Man.