Senate Committee Approves Bill Promoted By Privately-Owned Water Companies To Set Up Publicly-Owned Water/Wastewater Systems For Takeovers
On May 25, the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee reported out legislation pushed by privately-owned water/wastewater companies to set up publicly-owned water and wastewater systems for easier takeover by private systems.
Senate Bill 597 (Stefano-R-Fayette) would impose conflicting and expensive requirements on small water and wastewater systems for no benefit to their customers and if they can’t comply they would come under the regulation of the Public Utility Commission.
The bill was changed in Committee with a gut and replacement amendment to move the entire contents of the bill to Title 66 related to the Public Utility Commission which leaves no doubt about its intent.
The bill also gives the Public Utility Commission authority to adopt temporary regulations to implement the provisions of the legislation WITHOUT going through public comment periods or a review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.
The bill is now on the Senate Calendar for action.
The legislation is being pushed by Aqua America Water who employs Sean Schafer, former chief of staff for Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks), Majority Chair of the Committee, as a contract lobbyist and PA American Water which employs Michael Ward, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward’s (R-Westmoreland) son as a contract lobbyist.
The legislation is opposed by PA Rural Water Association, the PA Municipality Authorities Association, the Water Works Operators' Association of PA, the PA State Association of Township Supervisors, PA State Association of Boroughs and the PA Municipal League.
The amendment added in Committee made the bill worse and did not change the positions of these groups.
The PA Rural Water Association said in its letter, "This Bill appears to have the primary purpose of driving municipalities and small private entities out of the water and wastewater business through new unnecessary regulatory requirements and costs.
“SB 597 has language requiring that community water and wastewater systems develop an asset management plan and other distribution system requirements that go far beyond the requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and may even result in conflicting requirements with the SDWA and the federal funding associated with it.
“Additionally, SB 597 places enforcement of The Water Quality Accountability Act under the Public Utilities Commission, effectively placing water and wastewater system operation and maintenance under 2 different state regulatory agencies.
“This will create significant conflicts and overreach with no significant gains to systems or the general public. SB 597 would require significant additional staff hiring at PUC at a time when the PADEP has many unfilled SDWA positions. It doesn’t make sense."
The PA Municipal Authorities Association said, "The legislation clearly creates a pathway for municipal and municipal authority operated water and sewer systems to become PUC [Public Utility Commission] regulated entities.
“The consequences of this will be devastating and expensive for these systems and will result in increased costs to the citizens served.
“The consumer would see little if any benefit and the likely outcome would be massive rate increases, especially as unemployment is high and municipal systems work to assist customers who are struggling financially.
“The immediate implementation of these approaches will result in significant rate increases to citizens in many communities across Pennsylvania, while the benefit of these approaches has not been examined or quantified in any way.
“A more appropriate approach for asset management requirements would be to follow existing regulatory protocols established by DEP to promulgate new regulations and accept public input and technical advice from industry experts prior to finalizing such requirements, followed by a compliance schedule and small systems technical support to achieve compliance.
“This legislation bypasses this established process and will result in a myriad of unintended consequences for water and sewer utilities across the Commonwealth.”
PMAA represents 700 municipal authorities across the Commonwealth, the vast majority of which provide drinking water and wastewater treatment services to more than six million of its citizens.
The Water Works Operators' Association of PA said, “WWOAP supports the development of rules and regulations governing water systems operations that have improved the safety and reliability of community drinking water systems.
“These rules and regulations, either promulgated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advanced through a regulatory process that included stakeholder input, public input and Advisory Committee review and comment.
“Unfortunately, SB 597 is proposing by statute to impose requirements on water and wastewater systems which have not been vetted through a similar review process.
“WWOAP does not support the changes to the operations of community water systems proposed in SB 597.
“The proposed requirements in SB 597 do not conform to existing regulations or to regulations currently in the Final Regulatory stage such as the EPA Federal Revised Lead and Copper Rule or the Cybersecurity requirements in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA).
“The differences between existing regulations and the proposed requirements in SB 597 will create a compliance conflict for community water systems.”
The group pointed to specific concerns about each of the main provisions of the bill, including those related to cybersecurity which are now covered by other federal and state requirements.
"WWOAP vigorously opposes Senate Bill 597 (and Rewrite SB 597) as burdensome, redundant regulation that will not improve community water systems but will impose significant financial burdens on these systems, particularly the medium, small and very small systems.
“Therefore, we suggest that SB 597 be revised to remove the requirements for public water systems which are and will continue to be addressed and regulated by PA DEP.
“Water and wastewater systems already pay permit and annual fees to PA DEP for oversight, so requiring redundant oversight and regulation to an already highly regulated utilities will unnecessarily and substantially increase costs and further burden the customers/consumers.”
Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) serves as Majority Chair of the Consumer Protection Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5072 or sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-4236 or sending email to: email@example.com.
[Posted: May 26, 2021]
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