EPA chief vows help for rural water work

The Great Falls Tribune

by Ledge King

WASHINGTON— The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that her agency will “renew its efforts” to find ways of helping rural com¬munities in Montana and else¬where afford upgrades to their water systems.

Those upgrades are being mandated by Washington under new rules designed to promote public health.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jack¬son made no guarantees to mem¬bers of a Senate appropriations subcommittee but said she under¬stands the financial hardships small water systems face. She mentioned that the agency has some flexibility, for example, to make loans to eligible communi¬ties and then forgive them so they don’t have to repay anything.

“I do think EPA will renew its effort to work at the state level to make sure that it’s clear where those flexibilities are because (costs) are significant,” she said.
Jackson was answering a ques¬tion posed by Montana Democra¬tic Sen. Jon Tester, who said tougher clean-water standards are pinching rural communities in his state.

“Everybody wants clean drink¬ing water, you’re exactly right. If we don’t have this, we don’t sur¬vive,” he told her. “But by the same token, we need to make sure that we’re not eliminating the ability for communities to pro¬vide water or they’ll disappear. Period.”

The cost of meeting higher standards was the top concern raised at a Montana Rural Water Systems conference that Tester addressed last month, according to the senator’s office.