Mobile (Ala.) Completes Consent Decree Work

Mobile, Ala., has completed all work required under a 2002 consent decree resolving the city?s violations of the Clean Water Act and Alabama Water Pollution Control Act. The city?s Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners (Board) has paid the original $99,000 (federal) and $15,000 (state) civil penalties, as well as stipulated penalties totaling $476,000, and implemented related environmental projects valued at an additional $2.5 million. As a result, on October 25, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a notice of termination of the Consent Decree with the U.S. District Court.

Alabama and Mobile Bay Watch, Inc. (known as Mobile Baykeeper) were co-plaintiffs with the United States in the case and resulting consent decree against the Board. This action marks a significant accomplishment for the Board, and will result in long-term environmental and public health benefits for the Mobile Bay area. This is also the first major Clean Water Act consent decree involving a municipal sewer system to be terminated within Region 4 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under the consent decree, the Board was required to develop and implement numerous Management, Operations and Maintenance (MOM) programs to address the Clean Water Act violations cited. These include programs to ensure adequate sewer capacity; address operational and maintenance failures; control corrosion and grease in the sewer pipes; ensure proper reporting and public notification of sewer spills; prepare contingency plans for emergency situations; and monitor the water quality in the creeks and rivers within the Board?s service area. EPA estimates the Board has reduced its raw sewage discharges to surface waters by over 2.8 million gallons per year since implementing the programs, substantially reducing contamination and the risk to public health.

The Board also completed four supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) as required under the consent decree. Two of these SEPs funded purchases of environmentally valuable habitats in Mobile County, under the Alabama Forever Wild program, and within the Dog River watershed. One project supported the repair of private residential service laterals in low-income areas. The final SEP provided partial funding for the publicly available Mobile Bay area water quality monitoring database.

The Board owns and operates two wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), which discharge treated wastewater into Mobile Bay and its tributary, Three Mile Creek, as well as the transmission and collection systems that carry wastewater to the WWTPs for treatment. The 2002 consent decree resolved violations of both the Clean Water Act and the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act dating back to 1993.

Specifically, the Board was cited for exceeding the effluent limits outlined in its WWTPs? National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, as well sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) from the Board?s wastewater collection and transmission systems. SSOs pose a significant threat to public health and the environment, and remain a leading cause of water quality impairment. SSOs contain raw sewage and have high concentrations of bacteria from fecal contamination, as well as disease-causing pathogens and viruses.
House Repeals Withholding Rule

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to repeal a rule that would withhold 3 percent of payment for government contracts as a way to ensure those companies pay taxes. The withholding rule, which was introduced in 2006 and scheduled to go into effect in 2013, was repealed by a 405-16 vote.

Business groups had argued that withholdings create cash-flow problems for contractors, many of which are operating at low margins to begin with. The repeal will also have to be approved by the Senate before it can become law.

EPA Announces Final Study Plan to Assess Hydraulic Fracturing

EPA announced Nov. 3 its final research plan on hydraulic fracturing. At the request of Congress, EPA is working to better understand potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Natural gas plays a key role in our nation?s clean energy future and the Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that we continue to leverage this vital resource responsibly.

In March 2010, EPA announced its intention to conduct the study in response to a request from Congress. Since then, the agency has held a series of public meetings across the nation to receive input from states, industry, environmental and public health groups, and individual citizens. In addition, the study was reviewed by the Science Advisory Board (SAB), an independent panel of scientists, to ensure the agency conducted the research using a scientifically sound approach.

The initial research results and study findings will be released to the public in 2012. The final report will be delivered in 2014. To ensure that the study is complete and results are available to the public in a timely manner, EPA initiated some activities this summer that were supported by the SAB and provide a foundation for the full study.

The final study plan looks at the full cycle of water in hydraulic fracturing, from the acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced or used water as well as its ultimate treatment and disposal. Earlier this year, EPA announced its selection of locations for five retrospective and two prospective case studies.
This administration continues to take steps to ensure that we can rely on this abundant resource for decades to come, including taking steps to fully understand any impacts related to the development of this resource. This study is in line with the priorities identified in the president?s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, and is consistent with the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board recommendations on steps to support the safe development of natural gas resources.

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