Mayors Join Industry to Complain About EPA Water Standards

Mayors of America’s cities joined industry and Republican lawmakers to complain about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and urge the agency to back off enforcement of regulations to clean-up drinking water.

Unlike company executives and the legislators, the mayors steered clear of criticizing President Barack Obama’s administration, saying the EPA’s heavy-handedness dates back two decades.

“We’ve been dealing with this for four presidents,” Tom Cochran, chief executive officer of the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors, said today at a press conference.

The city leaders also urged Congress to provide funding to help cities pay for EPA-mandated water-cleanup projects. “But the chances of us getting additional grants with this Congress is doubtful, to say the least,” he said. The group hadn’t been able to meet with House Speaker John Boehner to discuss the issue, he said.

The EPA mandates under the 1972 Clean Water Act cost local governments $103 billion in 2009, according to the conference.

Criticism from the non-partisan, 1,300-member mayors’ group highlights dissatisfaction with an agency blamed for stifling job creation and imposing unreasonable costs in its health and environmental stewardship. The group’s president is a Democrat, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, although the elected officials who spoke today said their concerns aren’t partisan.

Unfunded Mandates

“I need to remind them that we aren’t ABC Chemical and that we share the same goals” of protecting residents, Joy Cooper, mayor of Hallandale Beach, Florida, and head of the group’s environmental committee, said of her discussions with EPA officials. “But we can’t have one more unfunded mandate from the federal government.”

The mayors praised the EPA’s success cleaning up rivers, storm sewers and water treatment plants in 40 years since the Clean Water Act took effect, while saying the slumping economy and tight local budgets call for a halt to let Congress amend the law.

“To celebrate the success of the Clean Water Act, we should take a time-out and call a moratorium,” Mayor Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee, Massachusetts, said at the conference. “We are putting too big a burden on the ratepayers.”

EPA has worked with many local governments to identify innovative solutions that resolve issues within budgetary constraints, the agency said in an e-mailed statement today.

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