August 2, 2001 -- NEWS ALERT SERVICE
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NEWS ALERT SERVICE!

Senate Supports Tougher Arsenic Standard

President Bush may be spared a difficult decision on arsenic, as the Senate, on August 1, voted 97-1 for a "watered-down" amendment to the USEPA 2002 appropriations bill. The Senate amendment, co-sponsored by Senators Boxer (D-CA), Reid (D-NV) and Biden (D-DE), is very different than the House version passed last week.  The House action. if it had been passed by the Senate and signed by the President, would have effectively stopped EPA's ongoing review of the arsenic rule.  This amendment does not preclude continuing expenditures by USEPA for the review, does not mention a specific arsenic level, and leaves the timing open to interpretation.  It does agree with the House amendment in requiring arsenic language to be included in early CCRs if arsenic is detected above five parts per billion.

The exact wording of the amendment as approved by the Senate is as follows:

The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water Act, shall immediately put into effect a new national primary drinking water regulation for arsenic that--

(1) establishes a standard for arsenic at a level providing for the protection of the population in general, fully taking into account those at greater risk, such as infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with a history of serious illness; and 

(2) lifts the suspension on the effective date for the community right to know requirements included in the national primary drinking water regulation for arsenic published on January 22, 2001, in the Federal Register (66 Fed. Reg. 6976).

The meaning of the word "immediately" is not clear at this time.  This is particularly true since there must now be a Conference Committee made up of House and Senate members to develop some compromise between the very different versions.  Since Congress is primed to leave DC for a month's vacation, it is likely that the Conference Committee will not meet until September and the President may not see the appropriations bill until almost October 1, 2001.  Presumably, the work of EPA's three advisory committees on arsenic will be completed, available for public review and comment, and possibly a new regulation proposal published by that time. The impact of the "greater risk" population mandate on EPA's rule proposal is also unclear.

Concurrently, Senator Domenici (R-NM) announced new legislation to provide grant funds to water systems that may be hit hard by any new arsenic rule.


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