An Environmental Protection Agency regulatory change to a 16-year-old mandate has the support of water companies across the state and has been an issue U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has been fighting for since he took office.
Since 1996, the EPA has required water authorities to mail annual reports on water quality to customers. These highly technical reports are quickly disregarded by most households and are mailed at great expense by water authorities each year, Toomey said.
Under the EPA's change, which goes into effect this year, water systems will be able to fulfill reporting requirements by posting the information online and directing customers to the information via their bill. It's something Toomey, R-Zionsville, tried to make happen in 2011 when he introduced a bill aimed at putting an end to unnecessary EPA mailers.
I'm pleased that the EPA has adopted the framework from The End Unnecessary Mailers Act, said Toomey. Their decision removes excessive paperwork burdens from Pennsylvania's local communities and will save water authorities tens of thousands of dollars a year.
That's money that can be better used to pay for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance, advocates said.
Water-company officials across the state noted that while they understand the importance of keeping customers informed, they believe the Internet enables that.
Kathy L. Pape, president of Pennsylvania American Water, said that in addition to lessening its impact on the environment, we are able to realize a cost savings through less paper used in printing and mailing these reports. All the same important information we provide to customers is still available on our website.
Toomey often has been critical of what he perceives as anti-business stances that the EPA has taken, but in this case, one of his staffers lauded the agency's decision.
The EPA issued a statement via email to The Times Leader that said, in part, EPA has … concluded that drinking water utilities can provide reports about drinking water quality to customers via email or on the Internet instead of mailing a copy of the report. Electronic delivery of these consumer confidence reports, which utilities are required to provide to their customers each year under the Safe Drinking Water Act, is expected to help utilities improve transparency and save resources.
Jennifer R. Kocher, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said the EPA's action follows years of PUC actions that move into the paperless direction. She said the PUC supports the action as long as customers who would still like access to a paper copy can have it. Under the rule change, they will.
This proposed change does not alter regulations for emergency water-contaminant notifications or the type of information contained in consumer confidence reports. Neither does it mandate water authorities to stop issuing the annual mailings. It gives them the option to go the online route instead.
Efforts to reach the state's acting consumer advocate were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.
To see Pennsylvania American Water Co's consumer confidence reports online visit: www.amwater.com/paaw/ensuring-water-quality/water-quality-reports.html
To see Aqua PA's consumer confidence reports online go to: www.aquaamerica.com/our-states/pennsylvania.aspx
and search by ZIP code under the water quality pull-down on the right side.