Water Infrastructure Alliance Highlights Priority Areas for 2021-2022 Legislative Session
With discussions centering around the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of our infrastructure systems, the Water Infrastructure Alliance (WIA) recently sent a letter to the House and Senate leadership identifying some key areas of interest in the 2021-2022 legislative session. The WIA, comprised of a diverse array of public water supply and clean water organizations, environmental groups, construction and engineering associations, and municipal and regional advocacy organizations, asked the Massachusetts legislature to consider ways to increase funding that will assist municipalities and regional water utilities in managing reduced funding as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing a variety of new regulations as well as meeting existing obligations for maintaining aging water infrastructure systems.
The letter, signed by 18 member groups of the WIA, including UCANE, highlighted the difficulty often associated with water infrastructure issues that are “out of sight and out of mind”. As the current pandemic has shown, the ability to respond to public health, environmental or economic development challenges is dependent on the reliability and strength of our water infrastructure system. In particular, the WIA noted:
“The COVID-19 pandemic did not spare our water infrastructure systems. Some municipal and regional water utilities, which have large commercial customer bases and rely on revenue from their commercial water and sewer rates, saw significant declines in revenue as businesses shuttered and moved to remote work operations. Moreover, the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that communities have also seen a reduction in residential fee collections as ratepayers struggle to make ends meet. Municipal and regional water utilities, which balance tight budgets in a normal year, must continue to play a major role in ensuring our water systems are safe and clean, even in a year of reduced revenues. As a result, they need additional funding to meet their existing operational obligations.”
The WIA letter further highlighted that in light of reduced revenue forecasts, many municipalities and water systems are still trying to navigate a host of new regulatory requirements. With new regulations governing PFAS, stormwater management (MS4), lead and copper content, and notifications related to combined sewer overflows, municipalities and regional water utilities are struggling to balance the competing needs. As a result, the WIA has asked House and Senate leadership to consider mechanisms for helping regulated entities meet these new requirements.
Finally, in addition to advocating for strong funding for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the WIA letter highlighted the importance of continuing to support the efforts of the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust (CWT), through the contract assistance line-item, as it works with municipalities and regional water utilities to close the water infrastructure funding gap. To this end, the WIA noted:
“The Massachusetts Clean Water Trust (CWT) has been an invaluable resource in addressing the Commonwealth’s funding gap. We believe the Governor’s recent FY’22 budget proposal, which drastically reduces funding to the contract assistance line-item, to be short sighted and will only further exacerbate the funding gap. The CWT maximizes this funding to expand assistance to municipalities and regional water systems to meet our shared water infrastructure needs. To encourage the Commonwealth’s further economic recovery, we need to increase funding, not decrease it, for appropriations such as the contract assistance line-item (1599-0093) that directly leads to job growth, better public health and safety and a cleaner environment.”
The WIA was formed as the Massachusetts legislature began looking closely at the Commonwealth’s water infrastructure funding gap in 2014. Since that time, the coalition has met on a regular basis to bring groups together to discuss the issues that impact the Commonwealth’s water infrastructure.
New Law Provides Unemployment Insurance Relief and Emergency Paid Leave for COVID-19
As reported by the State House News Service, the very first day of April saw Governor Charlie Baker sign the long-discussed unemployment relief legislation authorizing $7 billion in borrowing to stabilize the unemployment insurance system, establishing a paid sick leave program for COVID-19 emergencies, and reducing the size of premium increases employers face to fund the jobless benefits system. In an effort to align the bill’s paid sick leave provisions with federal law, the Governor did return a number of sections pertaining to the same for adoption.
Under the new measure, unemployment assessment rates will be frozen for the next two years, with a 16% cap in place for the next year. Massachusetts employers had otherwise faced a roughly 60 percent average increase in the taxes paid to fund the unemployment system. The bill also imposes an additional surcharge on employers through 2022 to pay back interest on the federal loans, which works out to roughly $57 per employee in 2021 and $66 per employee in 2022.
The new law creates a $75 million COVID-19 emergency sick leave program, allowing full-time workers to access up to 40 hours of paid time off if they contract the virus, need to quarantine, or must care for a family member affected by the pandemic. Part-time workers would also qualify for varying amounts of time off. Under the new law, employees are eligible for up to five days of paid leave under a program that Baker said is similar to a federal COVID paid leave program and applies to “employees who are sick with, isolated or quarantined due to COVID, or are securing immunization, or caring for family members in the same circumstances.”
As well, state law now reflects the federal level of unemployment compensation ($10,200), received by certain individuals with lower incomes in 2020 and 2021, which is exempt from state taxes. The new law also ensures that, for tax purposes, forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loan advances are also excluded from gross income, regardless of how businesses are organized. Finally, the new law creates a commission to analyze the state’s unemployment insurance system to recommend potential improvements in the future.
Baker-Polito Administration Awards $3 Million to Public Water Suppliers to Address PFAS Contamination
Mid-March saw the Baker-Polito Administration announce the awarding of $3 million in grants to 17 public water supply systems to support efforts to address elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. The grants were awarded to water systems serving Abington and Rockland, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Cohasset, Danvers and Middleton, Dudley, Hopedale, Littleton, Mansfield and Foxborough, Millis, Natick, North Attleborough, Sudbury, Topsfield, Westborough, Westfield, and Woburn for expenses related to the design and planning of treatment systems that protect drinking water against PFAS.
The grants were funded as part of $8.4 million made available as part of $28.4 million included in two supplemental budgets for water infrastructure and PFAS testing. Through the supplemental budget, $20 million was appropriated to the Commonwealth’s Clean Water Trust, providing financing that can be used by communities to address contamination issues. More than $8.4 million of the new funding supports a statewide sampling program for public water supplies and private wells, including this grant program. Conducting statewide testing of drinking water for PFAS will provide the data to support the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) strategy for treatment and mitigation of this emerging contaminant. In September 2020, the Administration announced the first round of grants, awarding $1.9 million to 10 public water supply systems. Along with a variety of other organizations, UCANE advocated for these funds in the various supplemental budget packages.
As described in the press release on this matter issued by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), PFAS compounds are a family of chemicals widely used since the 1950s to manufacture common consumer products and used in some legacy fire-fighting foams. Drinking water may become contaminated if PFAS deposited onto the soil seeps into groundwater or surface water. PFAS have been linked to a variety of health risks, particularly in women who are pregnant or nursing, and in infants. In October, the Baker-Polito Administration established the current 20 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for PFAS in drinking water and required water systems to regularly test for the contaminants.
The grants announced will provide funding to water suppliers for the necessary planning, studies, pump tests, and engineering and design work necessary to remove PFAS contamination from water systems. To assist communities that have already expended funds to address elevated levels of PFAS, many of the awards reimburse eligible costs already expended.
All community public water systems are required to test for PFAS6. Large public water supplies, those serving a population of 50,000 or more, were required to begin their initial PFAS6 tests as of January 1, 2021. Public water supplies serving populations between 10,000 and 50,000 will begin initial tests April 1, 2021, and those serving a population of less than 10,000 will begin testing October 1, 2021.
For additional information on the PFAS awards and the grants program, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/water-resources-grants-financial-assistance#pfas-treatment-grant-
Newly Filed Legislation to Prevent Clogged Pipes Gets Attention
The MetroWest Daily News recently highlighted a legislative initiative, championed by the Wastewater Advisory Committee, which would require flushable wipes to be labelled appropriately. The measure is similar to regulations that exist in the state of Washington, and also under consideration in California, Illinois, Oregon and Minnesota.
Known as “An Act Protecting Water Systems Through the Labeling of Flushable Wipes”, the legislation was filed by the House Chair on the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, Representative Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston) and the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), respectively. The bill tasks manufacturers of non-flushable products such as facial, household cleaning or baby wipes with marking their products with a clear, visible “Do Not Flush” label. The label, which would take up at least 2% of the “principal display panel” of a wipe’s container, would show a clear, unobscured “Do Not Flush” message for consumers. The legislation would also empower the MassDEP to enforce the same provisions and collect civil penalties from manufacturers that continue to sell unmarked non-flushable wipes.
The issue of “flushable wipes” has plagued municipalities for some time. While originally designed for hospital settings and the care of infants, moistened wipes for all types of purposes have become popular in the past ten or so years. As a result, wastewater treatment plants have become inundated with the remains of so-called “flushable wipes” that do indeed “flush” down the toilet, but do not actually dissolve or break apart like toilet paper. Individual municipalities have started information campaigns to dissuade flushing said products (i.e. https://www.lexingtonma.gov/water-and-sewer/news/wipes-labeled-%E2%80%9Cflushable%E2%80%9D-can-cause-damage-sewer-systems), but little has been done relative to direct-to-consumer warnings on packaging. It is anticipated that manufacturers and some retailers, depending on the eventual effective date, of these products will oppose this initiative for a variety of practical and financial reasons.
To review the filed matter, please visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/192/HD1625; the MetroWest Daily News coverage may be found at: www.metrowestdailynews.com/story/news/2021/03/19/eldridge-dykema-bill-seeks-get-non-flushable-wipes-out-sewer-systems/4755841001/.
News in Brief
Governor Finally Signs Legislature’s Signature Green Energy Bill. As detailed in previous Legislative Updates within Construction Outlook, Governor Baker finally signed legislation that updates the greenhouse gas emissions limits related to the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act and commits Massachusetts to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The Governor, who secured a variety of amendments he sought, will now direct the Secretary of EEA to establish an emissions limit of no less than 50% for 2030, and no less than 75% for 2040. The new law also authorizes the EEA to establish overall emissions limits every five years and create sublimits for at least six sectors of the Massachusetts economy – electric power; transportation; commercial and industrial heating and cooling; residential heating and cooling; industrial processes; and natural gas distribution and service. The legislation also expands Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review to require an Environmental Impact Report for all projects that impact air quality within one mile of an Environmental Justice Neighborhood and requires the MassDEP to conduct a stakeholder process to develop a cumulative impact analysis as a condition of permitting certain projects. To review the new law and its host of provisions relating to the emissions, gas infrastructure, safety and green energy, please visit: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2021/Chapter8.
DOR Extends Tax Deadline. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) announced the extension of the 2020 state individual income tax filing and payment due date from April 15th to match the recently-updated May 17th deadline for filing federal individual income taxes. According to the DOR, Massachusetts taxpayers do not need to file any forms or contact the DOR directly to qualify for this automatic state tax extension. All Massachusetts taxpayers who received more than $8,000 in total gross income in calendar year 2020 must file a state personal income tax return electronically or send it postmarked by midnight May 17, 2021. Taxpayers are encouraged to file their tax returns electronically for the quickest refunds. To learn more about the options available for filing your taxes, please visit: www.mass.gov/dor.
Mayor Janey Names Key Leadership. With former Mayor Marty Walsh now United States Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, City Council President Kim Janey is now the 55th Mayor of the City of Boston. Upon assuming the City’s top position, Mayor Janey announced her new leadership team. Of note: Mr. Chris Osgood, who previously served as Chief of the Streets, Transportation and Sanitation, has been named Chief of Staff. Ms. Mary Churchill has been named Chief of Policy and Planning, with Ms. Stephanie Garrett-Stearns and Mr. Samuel Hurtado as Senior Advisors. Mr. Omar Boukili will serve as Senior Advisor on COVID-19 response and strategic initiatives and Ms. Lindsey Butler will serve as Deputy Chief of Policy. Mr. Dion Irish, a long-time fixture in City Hall, has been named the Chief of Operations and Ms. Emme Handy is the Chief Financial Officer. For more information about Mayor Janey and her leadership team, please visit: https://www.boston.gov/departments/311/city-boston-government.
DPH Releases Anticipated Study on Link between Childhood Cancer Rates and Carcinogens in Water. According to a press release by the agency, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Environmental Health (DPH) has completed a long-running epidemiological study evaluating potential environmental contributors to elevated rates of childhood cancer observed in the town of Wilmington during the 1990s. Results of the study suggest an association between maternal (i.e. prenatal) exposure to carcinogenic compounds previously contaminating the Wilmington public water supply and development of childhood cancer, particularly leukemia or lymphoma, during this time period. A state epidemiological investigation was launched in 1999 after concerned Wilmington residents and the Board of Health contacted DPH about a suspected cluster of childhood cancer beginning in 1990 in the south and west sections of town. To review the DPH’s report, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reports-by-citytown-w#wilmington-.