Legislation 2017: It's a Wrap!
PLUS... Regulatory Developments
The 2017 legislative season was busy for NEBRA, with a variety of mostly indirect issues being decided upon in New Hampshire and Vermont in particular.
- House Bill 258, which was amended to include a continuation of biosolids utilization at a limited number of farms within designated river corridors, was passed and will soon go into effect. NEBRA appreciates the communications and coordination with the Rivers Management Advisory Council and NH DES, as well as the leadership of Representative Chris Christensen and members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
- SB 129 is a package of provisions regarding renewable energy and electricity pricing. Most important for residuals management is the portion of the bill that provides continued support for wood-fired biomass electricity generators around the state. Without this bill, some would close, and the wood ash they produce, which is valuable commodity for farmers, would disappear. Despite pressure from the NH Business and Industry Association and the large electric utilities, the bill garnered large support in both chambers of the Legislature. The Governor is getting pressure to veto it, but similar pressure to sign it. Stay tuned...
- Several other bills were driven by water quality concerns that indirectly might affect water and wastewater management. In particular, the discovery of contamination of wells with levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), especially PFOA and PFOS, in Merrimack and southeast New Hampshire over the past two years triggered efforts to establish additional enforcement standards.
- HB 485, would have required NH DES to establish an enforceable standard as low as 20 parts per trillion (ppt), equivalent to the standard set in Vermont in 2016. New Hampshire already has a groundwater standard of 70 ppt, which is the same as U. S. EPA's public health advisory screening level (an advisory level only). Only a handful of states have adopted enforcement standards for PFOA and/or PFOS, and only Vermont has adopted one lower than New Hampshire's. Such a low regulatory standard is difficult to enforce, because analytical abilities are challenging at such low levels, and PFAS are ubiquitous in society, leading to contamination and false positives. HB 485 has been retained in the House Finance Committee because of significant concerns about costs to municipalities and water systems and lack of evidence that a lower standard would improve public health. It will be further debated in the fall and winter.
- HB 463 was a bill that originally just provided NH DES with the legal tools to regulate air emissions that lead to groundwater contamination, something needed in addressing PFAS contamination concerns. It passed the House, but the Senate attached to it an amendment that would have also required NH DES to set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for PFAS in drinking water. This rushed amendment did not receive adequate hearing and fine-tuning and, although it passed the Senate, House members of the Committee of Conference did not accept the amendment. Senate members of the Committee would not budge either, and the bill died due to lack of concurrence between the two chambers.
- HB 431 became law, establishing a commission to study long term goals and requirements to ensure safe drinking water in the seacoast area. This is also focused, in part, on concerns about PFAS.
- HB 507 would have established a committee "to study the responsibility of a person who through their pollution makes drinking water non-potable." It passed the House but was voted "inexpedient to legislate" by the Senate.
- H 211 was hastily introduced in February and briefly considered by the the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, with one public hearing held in April. It has many disparate water-quality-related pieces, pretty much all of which were objectionable to water quality professionals. The last and longest section of the bill mischaracterizes a report on biosolids provided to the Legislature by VT DEC and calls for DEC to plan for a phase-out land application. DEC and many professionals in the field have taken strong stands against the legislation. It remains in Committee and will likely be taken up next year.
- S 10: As in NH, the Vermont Legislature sought to address PFAS contamination concerns. This bill, motivated by the PFOA problem in Bennington County, mandates that any entity that releases PFOA into the environment is liable for the extension of a public water system to any contaminated wells. The bill elaborates by stating that a person liable for the extension of a public water system is, "strictly, jointly, and severally liable for all costs associated that that public water system extension." It became law with the Governor's signature on June 2nd.
U. S. Congress
(Thanks to NACWA for this information.) Also concerned about drinking water quality, as highlighted by the Flint water quality crisis and PFAS concerns, the U. S. Congress is considering action. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced bipartisan legislation on April 24th aimed at improving federal efforts to identify and respond to the public health effects of emerging contaminants (summary here). The bill titled, “The Safe Drinking Water Assistance Act (S. 914)” was driven largely by concern over drinking water issues such as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) contamination in New Hampshire groundwater. The bill would establish a national strategy to coordinate federal response to emerging contaminants, encourage research, and provide guidance and resources to states. The introduced bill would develop an Emerging Contaminants Resources Database, which would be available to wastewater utilities and water associations, among other entities; but otherwise does not directly impact the clean water community.
Subsequently, Sen. Shaheen added an amendment to the federal Defense Authorization bill that would fund a national study on the health impacts of PFAS.
Washington, DC has adopted the nation's first law addressing non-flushables. Details...
New York has just released its final proposed revised Part 360 Solid Waste Management Regulations. They have a considerable number of changes from the draft presented in the fall of 2016. Comments on this final draft are due by 5:00 pm Eastern, July 21st. Details here. Parts especially applicable to biosolids are 360 (general requirements), 361 (material recovery facilities - includes composting and land application), 363 (landfills), and 366 (local solids waste management planning).
Vermont DEC has convened a biosolids advisory group of diverse stakeholders, with strong participation from the agriculture department. The group has held two meetings; NEBRA is represented by Ned Beecher. The goal is to establish policy direction to help inform an upcoming rulemaking process to update the biosolids and septage management rules, which will include separating them from the solid waste regulations. Ernie Kelley, who formally retires from DEC this month, will continue under contract to facilitate the advisory group and help with the rulemaking process. Eamon Twohig is taking over as the lead biosolids coordinator for Vermont and will also be involved in these processes. At the June 15th meeting, participants learned details about the new Required Agricultural Practices developed as part of implementation of major water quality protection legislation. Part of the advisory group's task will be to integrate biosolids and septage management into these agricultural structures.