After EPA warning, Pa. hikes fees on water systems to hire more inspectors

  • Marie Cusick

Steve Johnson via Flickr / (creative commons licence http://bit.ly/1ryPA8o)

After a warning from the EPA, Pennsylvania is moving to hire more staff to enforce Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

Nearly two years ago, the EPA told Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection that its water program was so under-staffed and under-funded, it was failing to enforce federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

Now, state environmental regulators are finally raising fees on public water systems in an effort to hire more inspectors.

In late 2016, the EPA sent the department a letter, saying its lack of staff had caused the number of unaddressed Safe Drinking Water Act violations to nearly double in the preceding five years, from 4,298 to 7,922. 

Former DEP Secretary David Hess, who now works as an environmental lobbyist, first broke the news of the EPA warning on his blog in early 2017 — calling the situation “unprecedented.”

It meant the feds could have taken away primary enforcement authority from the state, costing Pennsylvania millions of dollars in federal money. The DEP quickly responded by saying it would hike fees and hire more people.

In a notice published Friday in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, the DEP said the fee increases are now in effect and will “ensure that the Department has adequate funding to enforce the applicable drinking water laws, meet State and Federal minimum program elements, and retain primacy.”

The increased fees are expected to bring in about $7.5 million, which will allow the DEP to hire 33 new inspectors.