Federal Regulations Hinder Utilities' Ability To Adapt to Climate Change, Report Says

By Avery Fellow  

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Federal laws and regulations governing water quality are hindering the ability of utilities to adapt to climate change, according to a report issued Sept. 10 by the Water Research Foundation.

Regulations also limit water utilities' ability to cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report, Building a Climate-Ready Regulatory System.

The U.S. water industry is expected to face increasingly strict water quality standards as well as greenhouse gas emissions controls, along with climate change impacts, in the next few years, according to Rob Renner, executive director of WRF.

The Safe Drinking Water Act prevents regulators from revising water quality standards to become less restrictive, according to the report. As water supply quantity and quality decline in the future, meeting water quality standards will require more energy, the report states.

Additionally, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the SDWA do not allow the Environmental Protection Agency to defer action under the law if it conflicts with the goals or requirements of another environmental law. Federal agencies should insert language into the laws to make the requirements more flexible, according to the report.

EPA needs to include provisions in future water quality standards to help utilities meet energy regulations, according to the report. More stringent water quality standards would make it harder for water utilities to improve their energy efficiency, the report says.

The objective of the report is to help utility managers prepare for greenhouse gas emission regulations, climate change impacts, water supply demand, and other issues the industry is expected to face. It is also aimed at giving policymakers direction for helping the industry prepare for these changes, according to the report.

The report outlines potential state, regional, and federal climate change and water quality legislation and regulation, and policy changes that would allow utilities to reduce their carbon footprint while complying with laws and regulations to meet water supply demands.

Higher Electricity Costs Expected.

Electricity prices for water utilities are expected to be at least 10 percent higher than the market price over the next decade due to federal environmental regulations, the report states.

Water utilities can reduce energy costs by taking advantage of solar credits, energy efficiency incentives, tax rebates or subsidized loans for renewables, and other energy incentives, according to the report.

Utilities should track their energy use and find federal, state, and regional incentives related to energy efficiency and renewables that can reduce their operating costs as well as their carbon footprint to prepare for these regulations, the report states.

The report was developed in coordination with the American Water Works Association.