Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 01.31.16
Just Outside Washington


Talking Dirty: U.S. Water And The EPA

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed in 1974 to ensure safe drinking water in the U.S. It required EPA to set standards for drinking water quality and oversee the implementation of these standards by the states, localities, and other water suppliers. SDWA applies to every public water system in the U.S. of which there are 160,000. In addition, the SDWA provides money to the states for drinking water programs and infrastructure.

The EPA regulations include both mandatory levels a list of contaminants, including lead. Public water systems are required to regularly monitor their water for contaminants. Water samples must be analyzed using EPA-approved testing methods, by laboratories that are certified by EPA or a state agency. EPA has delegated oversight of public water systems to the states -- except Wyoming -- and has provided billions of dollars for this and water system construction.

Public water systems are required to submit periodic monitoring reports to its state overseeing agency. Violations of SDWA requirements are dealt with by the state agency with EPA as a backup.

We have seen this play out in Flint, Michigan. The Utilities Department is responsible for the supply and maintenance of all water and sewer services within the City of Flint. Oversight is provided by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which is in turn overseen by the EPA, Office of Water. See links below for the individual agencies. Also, the link from the New York Times provides "what did we know and when did we know it."

So why didn't EPA solve this problem before so many people in Flint were exposed?

The political assault against EPA, in Congress and elsewhere, has been reflected in real impacts; EPA's budget has been reduced from $10.3 Billion in 2010 to $8.1 Billion for 2016. In addition, EPA staff has been reduced; it had 18,000 employees in 1999 and only 15,000 in 2014. Further, EPA is asked do more with less. For example, EPA must conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis for every new standard to determine whether the benefits of a drinking water standard justify the costs.

Maybe the continual diatribe about federal regulatory overreach and EPA in particular has had an impact. Example: "I think states should press back (against EPA) using every tool they have available. We've got to rein in a lawless executive that is abusing its power," Cruz told Breitbart News.

The 2015 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government(R) data show a slight increase of 1.2 percent in federal employee satisfaction with their jobs and workplaces following four years of decline. Government-wide, federal employee job satisfaction and commitment score for 2015 was 58.1 out of 100. EPA's score was about average at 58.5. In contrast, the 2015 satisfaction rate for private sector employees is 76.7, according to Sirota, a survey research organization.

Research shows job satisfaction impacts performance. Given recent history I am surprised that EPA employees have not adopted the response I experienced in the Army: "Pardon me Sir, you mistake me for someone who gives a shit!",4561,7-135-3313---,00.html