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Devember 17, 2001
Vulnerability risk reports

The following message comes for Tom Curtis, AWWA Deputy Executive Director for Government Affairs.

The House has just approved the Tauzin-Dingell "Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act," HR 3448, by a vote of 414-2, with no amendments!

Even more amazing, the bill bypassed all House committees (there was a closed door meeting of the Energy and Commerce Committee but no hearings or markups) and went directly to the floor under suspension of the rules!

I'm told this is not an unprecedented process, but I've never seen it used before, nor can I find anyone else who has actual memory of this ever being done.

It's the legislative equivalent of a virgin birth, and it conveys the level of importance and urgency Congress attaches to security matters at the present.

I don't think a bill recognizing motherhood and apple pie could have been approved by that margin after a process that involved no opportunity for public involvement.

The DC office and several key utility members were substantially involved behind the scenes, but this bill resembled a screaming freight train, and our involvement was more damage control than real direction.

As passed, the bill includes a requirement for all water utilities serving over 3,300 people to complete vulnerability assessments. There is no EPA regulatory role in the bill (we managed to keep that out) but utilities will be required to certify to EPA that they have completed a vulnerability assessment by the following dates:

December 31, 2002 (for utilities serving over 100,000 people);

June 30, 2003 (for utilities serving between 50,000-100,000); or December 31, 2003 (for utilities serving between 3300-50,000) .

The scope of the vulnerability assessment is specified in the bill, to include water collection, pretreatment, treatment, distribution, storage, electronic or automated systems, and the use, handling, and storage of all chemicals, among other things.

By March 1, 2002, the Administrator is required to provide "baseline" information to utilities regarding probable threats or actions that could substantially disrupt the ability to provide safe and reliable water or present significant public health concerns.

Six months after they complete a vulnerability assessment, utilities must certify to EPA that they have completed or revised an emergency response plan that incorporates the results of the vulnerability assessment. This plan must include actions, procedures, and identification of equipment that can obviate or significantly lessen the effect of a terrorist attack or intentional action against the utility.

The Administrator also gets new emergency powers to order or take direct action herself if a utility has not responded to "a potential or threatened terrorist attack (or other intentional act)."

Vulnerability assessments and response plans are not reported to EPA and there is no EPA role in judging the quality of your work (this was subject to much behind the scenes debate and is probably the most important change that AWWA secured in the bill).

However, the requirement to do the work and certify as such to EPA is federally enforceable. Because your plans etc. do not go to EPA, they are not subject to the Federal Freedom of Information Act, but they may be subject to your state or local public information laws.

The bill authorizes $120 million for this year (and "such sums as may be necessary" for the next two fiscal years) for conducting vulnerability assessments, developing or amending response plans, and for expenses "designed to address basic security enhancements of critical determined by a vulnerability assessment."

The fact that money is made available for actual infrastructure investments and not just for assessing and planning is very significant. This money represents a good start but is not sufficient, especially for making actual security upgrades.

We need to make sure that there are adequate funds for making investments in water infrastructure security. WUC, Section, and Officer involvement in the Security Fly-In next March will be critical to that effort!

The Senate will take up a bioterrorism bill in the near future. As currently drafted, the Senate bioterrorism bill does not includerequirements directed at water utilities, but I don't think it will take them long to add some when they read the politics evident in the House vote.

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