Taken from the CQ Roll Call By Nathan Hurst
The Senate cleared legislation Tuesday to exempt fire hydrants from new lead-free requirements for drinking water systems scheduled to take effect in January.
The bill (HR 3588) was cleared for the president’s consideration by unanimous consent. The House passed the bill earlier this month, 384-0, under suspension of the rules.
Earlier Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would back off its earlier guidance that fire hydrants must conform to new lead-free restrictions on lead levels in pipes used for drinking water.
A 2011 law (PL 111-380) lowered the maximum allowable lead content for the materials used in drinking water systems from 8 percent to a weighted average of 0.25 percent for their combined wetted surfaces and gave affected parties three years to comply with the new standard.
The law includes exemptions for non-potable water systems, such as those used for industrial purposes or sewer systems. But EPA guidance issued in October said the standard should apply to hydrants because they could be sources of drinking water in emergency situations.
The agency reversed itself Tuesday, saying in a statement that it had “concluded that fire hydrants are not widely used as a potable source of water and that the guidance should be revised to exclude fire hydrants if Congress doesn’t take action to do so before the January deadline.”
The action is good news for municipal water agencies around the country, which would have had no options for replacing hydrants had the restriction taken effect. Assuming the standard would not apply, no manufacturers made hydrants that would have met the new mandate.
Cleveland alone has an inventory of 565 hydrants, worth more than $650,000, that could not have been used if the EPA directive remained in force, according to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
Despite the EPA statement, the American Water Works Association and Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies urged lawmakers to proceed with a legislative fix.
“We still haven’t seen anything official from EPA, and strongly support the House’s measure,” said Dan Hartnett, director of legislative affairs for the water agencies group.