Last week Lower Saucon Township Council became the latest entity to voice their opposition to a bill which would require the use of water and wastewater asset management plans throughout Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 597, which was introduced by Sen. Patrick Stefano (R-32) last month, has quickly garnered opposition from various environmental and other interest groups.
While the bill would establish uniform practices for managing water and wastewater throughout the commonwealth, its opponents believe the bill will only hurt customers by forcing municipalities and small private entities out of the water and wastewater business.
“I see the three (entities) that are really pushing this bill seem to be the largest water companies in the entire state of Pennsylvania,” said Sen. John Kane (D-9) in his comments to the state senate opposing the bill.
At Lower Saucon Township’s June 16 council meeting, water authority administrator Bill Ross told council he believes the bill will put pressure on local water authorities to sell their assets to large private companies.
“This is a piece of legislation that is extremely dangerous to small authorities (such as ours),” the authority claimed in a memo that was shared with Lower Saucon Township residents. “It could lead to many publicly owned authorities being susceptible to purchase by privately owned (read: for-profit) systems, which would lead ultimately to much higher consumer rates.”
Ross told Saucon Source he doesn’t believe a privately-owned water authority would operate with as much care for the system and consumers as the Lower Saucon Authority.
“We are one of the few authorities in the state that proactively replace pipe every year,” he said, noting that the authority replaces anywhere from 800 to 2,000 feet of pipe annually.
“All of our money is reinvested into the authority one way or another, whether it’s for reserves or whether it’s for improvements,” Ross continued. “If you have a for-profit, private company, economically, a lot of them are going to say, ‘it’s not in our best interest to be proactive, we’ll make fixes when needed.'”
“That’s just a major difference in doing business. We feel that we give our customers a lot of benefit for what they pay,” Ross said.
Opponents of the bill also noted that its passage could lead to conflicts between the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, who would be responsible for enforcing regulations under the bill, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“SB 597 places enforcement of The Water Quality Accountability Act under the Public Utilities Commission, effectively placing water and wastewater system operation and maintenance under two different state regulatory agencies,” the PA Rural Water Association said in a letter opposing the bill. “This will create significant conflicts and overreach with no significant gains to systems or the general public.”
Ross echoed the concerns of the PA Rural Water Association.
“There is potential for regulatory chaos. One organization may say, ‘this is OK,’ one may not,” he said. “When you have regulation coming from one place, it’s clear. It’s concise. There’s no room for disagreement.”
Perhaps chief among the criticisms of the bill are those related to the environment.
The Water Works Operators’ Association of PA (WWOAP), a nonprofit dedicated to bolstering knowledge and expertise at all levels of Pennsylvania’s water sector, said SB 597 would bypass important regulatory processes established by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“WWOAP supports the development of rules and regulations governing water systems operations that have improved the safety and reliability of community drinking water systems,” the association said. “Unfortunately, SB 597 is proposing by statute to impose requirements on water and wastewater systems which have not been vetted through a similar process.”
Lower Saucon Township Council approved a resolution at their last meeting to send letters opposing the bill to all local state representatives. The authority’s memo also urges residents in opposition of the bill to contact state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-18), whose district includes Lower Saucon Township.
Boscola can be reached at her district office at 559 Main Street, Suite 270, Bethlehem, PA 18018, by calling (610) 868-8667 or by visiting her website.
Other opponents of the bill include:
- Lehigh County Authority
- PA Municipal Authorities Association
- PA Water Environment Association
- PA State Association of Township Supervisors
- PA State Association of Boroughs
- PA Municipal League