Brown, Vance Call on EPA to Provide Ohio Communities with Flexibility to Meet Compliance Standards Set by Clean Water Act

 

Senators Want EPA to Factor in the Financial Challenges Ohio Communities Face

WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 14, 2024 –  Today, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and J.D. Vance (R-OH) called on Environmental Protection Agency Region 5, which oversees environmental standards across Ohio and much of the Midwest, to engage with Ohio communities, weigh each community’s financial capacity, and provide them with flexibility as they work to fulfill their unfunded federal mandate under the Clean Water Act. The Senators want EPA to utilize the Financial Capability Assessment (FCA) Guidance under the Clean Water Act to ensure compliance requirements are not overly burdensome and consider the financial capabilities of communities.

“We urge you to fully utilize the 2023 CWA Financial Capability Assessment (FCA) Guidance and engage with communities to take a wholistic approach in calculating an area’s financial capacity for CWA compliance as Ohio communities work to fulfill their unfunded federal mandate under the Act,” the Senators wrote.

A copy of the letter can be found HERE and below.

Dear Administrator Shore:

As the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works with Ohio communities to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act (CWA), we urge you to fully utilize the 2023 CWA Financial Capability Assessment (FCA) Guidance and engage with communities to take a wholistic approach in calculating an area’s financial capacity for CWA compliance as Ohio communities work to fulfill their unfunded federal mandate under the Act.

Currently, there are a number of Ohio communities under federal consent decrees regarding CWA compliance, including the major metropolitan areas of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, Toledo and Youngstown. While each of these communities is committed to reaching compliance with the CWA in a timely manner, they are also encumbered by aging infrastructure and constrained financial positions due to a legacy of deindustrialization. In order to ensure Ohio communities have the tools and support necessary to achieve full compliance with the CWA, we urge you to engage directly with each community to understand its unique population needs and socioeconomic challenges and incorporate those findings into calculating their FCAs to alleviate any disproportionate burden on Ohio rate payers.

The FCA is a critical, non-binding tool available to the EPA to ensure CWA compliance requirements are not overly burdensome and take into account the financial capabilities of communities. We understand that the FCA includes financial criteria, formulas, and methodologies that communities can use to determine if it has the financial resources to implement necessary pollution control measures. However, many of these criteria are outdated; in fact, The National Academy of Public Administrators highlighted several criticisms of the existing FCA criteria in its 2017 report to Congress.

Accordingly, we write to urge the EPA to recognize that each community has unique population needs and socioeconomic challenges in meeting its obligations under the CWA. In order to ensure timely compliance under the law, the FCA process should consider a broader set of factors. There are other metrics – including population trends, homeownership rates, household income levels, job and wage growth potentials, poverty rates, public assistance availability, and public assistance utilization – that could provide a more accurate analysis of an area’s financial capacity and should be considered to truly gauge what a community can afford. Without such considerations, the most vulnerable populations in these communities suffer.

It is our understanding that few, if any, Ohio communities have worked with the EPA on an FCA since the published FCA guidance was released in February 2023.  However, we anticipate that Ohio communities will engage with the EPA on financial capability assessments soon. For instance, Hamilton County, Ohio on behalf of the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, is currently engaging in such a process as it works with the EPA on Phase 2B of its CWA consent decree.

In order to relieve excess financial strain on underserved communities, we urge the EPA to work closely with Hamilton County, and other communities across Ohio, and consider diverse factors when evaluating affordability including socioeconomic factors and nuances of cash-flow forecasting to establish demands that exceed what most vulnerable populations can afford. Relying on an oversimplification of factors identified in the guidance document will not result in a benefit to Ohio communities or help fulfill the goals of the CWA. Rather, the EPA should work with communities to ensure any FCA considers factors relevant to the community and results in the assistance necessary for communities across Ohio to achieve compliance with the CWA in a timely manner.

Together, we can help Ohio meet its obligations under the CWA, benefitting the health of Ohioans and communities across our state, without placing a disproportionate burden on those the Act is designed to benefit. Please keep my office and I informed of discussions and progress regarding the FCA and Ohio communities’ compliance with the CWA. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

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