PA Nutrient Reduction Bill Could Cut Municipal Wastewater Costs
By Sara Jerome
Municipalities would see their wastewater treatment costs drop under legislation advancing in the Pennsylvania legislature, according to proponents of the bill.
The aim of Senate Bill 994 is to minimize the overall cost of reducing nitrogen levels entering the Chesapeake Bay. The state is required to reduce nitrogen delivered to the Chesapeake Bay by 30 percent over 2011 levels by 2025, according to Senate documents.
Under the bill, the state would request proposals from entities, such as farms, to create projects that would lower their nutrient output below requirements. The entities would bid to receive government money for the most efficient proposals for reducing nitrogen levels. Ultimately, backers say the market would naturally move the cost for nitrogen reduction away from municipalities, instead placing the brunt of the burden on entities who bid to handle the task.
Municipalities have weighed in on the bill favorably, saying it could lower the nutrient reduction burden that wastewater treatment plants must shoulder to comply with state standards, according to Mike Rader, executive director of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Rader helped write the bill, which was introduced by Republican Sen. Elder Vogel.
In speaking to interested parties about the bill, Rader said some municipalities expressed frustration that they had recently invested in expensive equipment upgrades aimed at cleaning up the nutrients in wastewater. They see this bill as reducing the value of those investments. A handful of cities, such as Danville, PA, have spent millions to upgrade technology at their wastewater treatment facilities to mitigate nutrient output.
The Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association (PMAA) has yet to weigh in on the bill, according to an official from the trade group. The group has followed the legislation over the last two years and has had talks with proponent companies, the official said.
Democratic Sen. Judy Schwank, who voted against the bill in committee, said she would like a better understanding of how the bill would fit into existing stormwater policies. She also said it is unclear where the state would find the money to fund the nutrient reduction proposals.
“It’s not that I’m totally against the bill. We just never got enough information to pass it,” she said.
Pennsylvania currently has a system for entities to trade nutrient reduction credits. If an entity exceeds its nutrient reduction requirement, it can sell a credit to an entity who will not meet its target, so that they both comply with the rules. Backers say this legislation would complement that system.
Various agriculture interests are supporting the bill. It passed out of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee in June and awaits consideration by the full Senate.
"Photo of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, somewhere along US-11," © 2013 Villarosevi, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en