July 2020 Vol. 75 No. 7



Supreme Court Clears Path for Pipeline Crossing Under Appalachian Trail

The Supreme Court paved the way for a critical permit for the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail, siding with energy companies and the Trump administration.

The justices ruled 7-2 to reverse a lower court ruling that had thrown out the U.S. Forest Service permit for the Atlantic Coast project, which will bring natural gas from West Virginia to growing markets in Virginia and North Carolina.

The project is designed to run in part through the George Washington National Forest, where a 0.1-mile segment of the pipeline would cross about 600 feet beneath the Appalachian Trail.

The narrow question before the Supreme Court was whether the U.S. Forest Service has the authority to grant rights-of-way through lands crossed by the Appalachian Trail within national forests, as project developers Dominion Energy and Duke Energy and the Trump administration argued. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a majority of the court that the “Forest Service had the authority to issue the permit here.”

Atlantic Coast Pipeline spokeswoman Ann Nallo said in a statement that the decision is an “affirmation for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and communities across our region that are depending on it for jobs, economic growth and clean energy” and that they “look forward to resolving the remaining project permits.”


USDA Awards $750 Million for Rural Broadband Infrastructure

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing nearly $750 million in funding to improve rural broadband infrastructure across the country through its ReConnect Program, which helps pay for construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.

The program began in October 2019 and has awarded over $744 million to 82 projects in 34 states. Projects submitted by utilities and broadband companies were funded through a grant, a loan or a combination of the two.

Applicants are mostly evaluated on population density of the area to be served and the range of facilities beyond residential homes that would receive service.


Court Rejects Bid to Revive Cancelled U.S. Pipeline Program

A federal appeals court turned down a Trump administration request to revive a permit program for new oil and gas pipelines, an outcome that industry representatives said could delay more than 70 projects across the U.S. and cost companies up to $2 billion.

The case originated with a challenge by environmentalists to the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. Government attorneys, backed by 19 states and numerous industry groups, had argued the cancellation would delay construction of pipelines used to deliver fuel to power plants and other destinations.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana said in a pair of recent Keystone rulings that Army Corps officials failed to adequately consult with wildlife agencies before reauthorizing the permitting program in 2017.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting program allows pipelines to be built across streams and wetlands with minimal review if they meet certain criteria. Environmental groups contend the program, known as Nationwide Permit 12, leaves companies unaccountable for damage done to water bodies during construction.


$12 Million Earmarked for Texas Rural Water Infrastructure Improvements

State Director for Rural Development Edd Hargett said the USDA is investing $12 million to improve water and wastewater infrastructure in rural communities in Texas, with funding made available through its Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program.

Eligible applicants include rural cities, towns and water districts. The funds can be used for drinking water, stormwater drainage and waste disposal systems in rural communities that meet population limits.

In April 2017, President Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.


Tennessee House Panel Passes Private Sewer Oversight Bill

A House panel in the Tennessee legislature has passed a bill that would block the state’s Department of Environment and Conservation from regulating how some types of sewage treatment systems are designed and built.

Decentralized wastewater systems are often used where municipal sewers are not available. They work by pumping liquid waste to an on-site treatment facility and then spraying or dripping it onto a field. When the systems are poorly designed, the waste can pool on the surface, contaminate groundwater or run off into nearby streams.

Tennessee Wastewater Systems has the largest number of these systems in the state and has received dozens of violation notices in the past decade. TDEC recently fined the company for a lagoon that is supposed to retain effluent and “provide partial treatment of wastewater through microbiological processes.” The agency says it instead allows the wastewater to escape directly into the groundwater. The company filed an appeal and denies the allegation.

Clean Water Professionals of Kentucky and Tennessee sent a letter to state Rep. Jason Zachary, the House sponsor of the bill, expressing concern that it “would be dialing back proper regulatory oversight of these systems during the design and construction phase, and without the appropriate oversight and approval, could pose an increased risk to public health.”


EPA Announces $196 Million Water Infrastructure Loan to Inland Empire, California

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a $196 million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan to the Inland Empire Utilities Agency in San Bernardino County, California. The loan will help finance expanded wastewater treatment capacity to support public health and the environment in this growing community.

As of mid-June, the EPA has issued 21 WIFIA loans totaling $4.4 billion to help finance $9.8 billion in water infrastructure projects.

The Regional Water Recycling Plant No. 5 (RP-5) Expansion Project will expand the plant’s liquids treatment capacity and construct a new solids handling facility. EPA’s WIFIA loan will finance nearly half of the $450 million total cost of the project. The California State Water Board’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund will finance approximately $100 million with the remainder coming from borrower funds and grants.


DCA Restructures Industry Meetings

The Distribution Contractors Association has cancelled its planned Mid-Year and Fall Meetings and will hold a combined event later in the fall.

“This was not an easy decision, but ultimately the public health and safety of our members, families, speakers, and staff led us to conclude that cancelling these face-to-face meetings was the safe and responsible action,” DCA Executive Vice President Robert Darden said in a statement to members.”

In the place of these two major DCA events, a “Mid–Fall Meeting” has been scheduled for Oct. 5–8 at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, the same hotel where the original Mid-Year was planned to occur.

More details will be forthcoming and posted on the DCA website. Registration will open later this summer.


WEFTEC, UESI Conferences Move to Virtual Events

The Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) annual event WEFTEC has been moved to a completely virtual event for 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic. Following suit, the Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute (UESI) Pipelines 2020 Conference has also announced its switch to virtual event.

The original WEFTEC 2020 event scheduled for October in New Orleans has been renamed WEFTEC Connect and plans to offer attendees interactive education, an exhibitor showcase, and networking experiences. WEFTEC 2021 will be held in Chicago.

“The cancellation of the October meeting in New Orleans was necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic that has made it inadvisable to hold the traditional WEFTEC in-person meeting,” WEF said in a statement, adding, “We do look forward to having WEFTEC return to New Orleans in 2022.”

Further information is available on the organizations’ respective websites for the conferences, including program details and descriptions of how the virtual events will function.


Maryland, Virginia, D.C. Intend to Sue EPA on Bay Pollution

Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia filed a notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to require that two
other states implement plans to cut pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, officials said.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed the notice of intent to sue with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. They say the EPA has failed to require Pennsylvania and New York to develop and implement plans to achieve
2025 Chesapeake Bay restoration goals as required by an agreement by states in the watershed of the nation’s largest estuary.

Wheeler, who announced $6 million for bay states to improve water quality by reducing nitrogen from agricultural operations, told reporters in a conference call that all states in the bay’s watershed have work to do to reach the 2025 goals.

Pennsylvania is set to receive about $3.7 million of the money, with Virginia receiving about $1.1 million and Maryland getting $696,000, the EPA announced. Delaware is slated to receive about $365,000, New York $79,500 and West Virginia $54,700.


Joint Venture Selected for California Ag Program

A joint venture of Brown and Caldwell and Carollo Engineers said it was selected by the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District to provide management services for its $375 million South Sacramento County Agriculture & Habitat Lands Recycled Water (South County Ag) Program.

The Program represents one of the largest agricultural reuse projects in the United States, providing up to 50,000 acre-feet per year of Title 22 tertiary-treated recycled water to irrigate up to 16,000 acres of permanent agriculture and habitat conservation lands near the Cosumnes River and Stone Lakes Wildlife
Refuge in Sacramento County.

The Brown and Caldwell/Carollo JV will provide technical, financial, and project management oversight for the project. The team will schedule the design and construction of the new recycled water delivery system, consisting of a 95-mgd pump station and 65 miles of transmission and distribution pipelines.

The first phase of the recycled water delivery system is expected to be operational by late 2023.


EPA Proposes First-Ever Rule to Improve Transparency of Guidance

The EPA announced that it plans to introduce a rule that will establish consistent requirements and procedures for its guidance documents, which the agency said will improve its process for managing those documents while significantly increasing the transparency of its guidance practices.

When final, the rule will stablish the first formal petition process for the public to request that EPA modify or withdraw a guidance document. It also will ensure that the agency’s guidance documents are developed with appropriate review and public participation, while being accessible and transparent, the EPA said.

“Historically, EPA has issued many more guidance documents than most federal agencies. Today’s action is a major step toward increasing transparency in EPA processes and ensuring that EPA is not creating new regulatory obligations through guidance.” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.

Last year, President Trump issued Executive Order 13891, “Promoting the Rule of Law Through Improved Agency Guidance Documents,” to ensure that all active guidance documents are made available to the public. A central principle of the order is that guidance documents should only clarify existing obligations and should not be used to implement new, binding requirements on the public.

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