Concerns Grow as PFAS Detection Continues in Source Waters
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Federal Infrastructure Policy and Funding Update: Week of August 29, 2022

August in Washington, D.C., is when many take summer vacations, seizing the congressional recess as an opportunity to slip away for one last hoorah before dealing with the potential of a government shutdown, midterm elections, and school starting back up. This update won’t address any of those hot-button items, but we do have a few pieces of important news to share regarding regulating forever chemicals, addressing disadvantaged communities in transportation investments, and advancing renewable energy. Thanks for reading and please remember to subscribe.

Key Recent Policy and Funding Happenings

Environmental Protection Agency Takes Action on Hazardous Substances

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposed rule to designate certain per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) commonly referred to as “Superfund.” This designation would require industry to report the release of these PFAS chemicals above certain thresholds and allow EPA to enforce clean-up actions and recover costs from the polluters.

PFAS chemicals are considered "forever chemicals" due to their longevity in the human body and the environment. The proposed rule finds that there is sufficient evidence to determine that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) may present a substantial danger to human health or welfare or the environment. Both substances can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time and may lead to cancer, reproductive, developmental, cardiovascular, liver, and immunological effects.

You can read more about our work related to PFAS and what it means for water utilities. Additional resources are available including our SDWA Wall Chart Focus on PFAS and our One Water Solutions for PFAS.

EPA Takes Additional Steps to Protect Vulnerable Communities from Pollution

The EPA is proposing to revise the Risk Management Program rule to further protect vulnerable communities from chemical accidents, especially those living near facilities with high accident rates. The proposed rule would:

  • Provide greater protections for communities living near Risk Management Program facilities.
  • Emphasize the requirement for regulated facilities to evaluate risks of natural hazards and climate change, including any loss of power.
  • Promote environmental justice through increased availability of information for fence line communities in their requested language.
  • Require safer technologies and alternatives analysis for certain facilities with high accident rates.
  • Advance greater employee participation and opportunity for decision-making in facility accident prevision requirements.
  • Require third party audits for facilities with a bad track record of accidents.
  • Enhance facility planning and preparedness efforts.

USDOT Announces Thirty-Nine Programs Supporting Justice40

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently updated its list of 39 programs that support the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of directing 40% of benefits from certain federal programs towards disadvantaged communities. USDOT also provides a table that describes the underlying indicators and sources in USDOT’s definition of disadvantaged communities. Supporting applicants in identifying disadvantaged communities that meet the programmatic definitions under the various discretionary funding opportunities, USDOT also provides a list of Federal Tools to Determine Disadvantaged Community Status. The tools include the identification of transportation disadvantaged census tracts, areas of persistent poverty and historically disadvantaged communities, EJScreen, the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool and the Center for Disease Control’s Social Vulnerability Index.

Department of the Interior Tackles Drought and Water Use

Severe drought conditions in the Western United States have had a catastrophic effect on water supply, resulting in “urgent action” by the Department of the Interior to improve and protect the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System. The Bureau of Reclamation is asking the seven states that draw water from the Colorado River to cut their consumption by as much as 40% or risk a federally mandated water use reduction. The competing interests of the states has not produced a consensus on how to reduce water consumption and federal intervention is a real possibility. Several stories (not behind a paywall) describe the challenges, both natural and political, that remain to chart a path forward – you can read more from ProPublica and Politico on this topic.

Beyond rationing water use, the Department of the Interior is taking affirmative action implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and its available funding to support activities that help mitigate the effects of the historic drought. The Department of the Interior announced funding for the planning, design, and construction of water reuse projects across the country. The funding will support local water management agencies with stretching existing water supplies and helping to ensure that growing water needs can be met through the advanced treatment of wastewater and naturally impaired surface and groundwater.

Offshore Wind in the Gulf of Maine Advances

The Department of the Interior announced the next steps in advancing offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine through a Request for Interest (RFI) and Request for Competitive Interest (RFCI) for public comment. The RFI is the first step for commercial planning and leasing to identify offshore locations that appear most suitable for development, taking into consideration potential impacts to other resources and ocean users. This RFI will gauge interest in the development of commercial wind energy within nearly 14 million acres in the Gulf of Maine. The RFCI is the next step in processing the State of Maine’s application for a research lease and provides notice of the proposed research area that Main requested.

Clean Energy Updates from the Department of Energy

The Department of Energy made a number of funding announcements implementing provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that support clean energy development and deployment including:

  • $540 million in awards for university- and National Laboratory-led research into clean energy technologies and low-carbon manufacturing.
  • $60 million in total funding for clean hydrogen and decarbonization, including:
    • $40 million in funding to advance the development and deployment of clean hydrogen technologies; and
    • $20 million for a university research consortium to help states and Tribal communities successfully implement grid resiliency programs and achieve decarbonization goals.
  • $31 million to develop carbon capture technologies capable of capturing at least 95% of carbon dioxide emissions generated from natural gas power plants, waste-to-energy power plants, and industrial applications, including cement and steel.
  • $28 million for research and development projects that will advance and preserve hydropower as a critical source of clean energy. The funding opportunities will:
    • Encourage sustainable growth of hydropower and pumped storage hydropower.
    • Expand pumped storage hydropower.
    • Support stakeholder’s efforts to understand community-level issues affecting hydropower.
  • With the increased interest and focus on renewable energy generation and distribution, the Department of Energy has created a top 10 list of things you didn’t know about various energy topics. Although not as funny as David Letterman’s top 10 lists, they do provide good information to help energy novices get up to speed on key topics. You can explore the Joules of Wisdom series.
Eric Beightel | HDR | advisory services
Principal Infrastructure Policy/Environmental Strategist
Christina Alito
One Water Institute Lead
Cathy LaFata
Transportation Equity Director
David Culligan  | Hydropower Practice Lead at HDR
Hydropower Practice Lead, Eastern U.S.
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