National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 EPA to regulate fire hydrants

By Julie Ufner

UPDATE: On Dec. 17, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 3588 unanimously. The bill now heads to President Obama for his signature.

Last month, without fanfare or warning, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that fire hydrants containing lead components would be prohibited as of Jan. 1, 2014.

The proposal will have a long-reaching impact on local governments who own or operate water utilities (and thus have the responsibility over fire hydrants) by making the current stock of hydrants unusable. Hydrants cost approximately $2,000 each and are often stockpiled by water utilities in case of emergencies.

In January 2011, Congress enacted the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act which amended the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to reduce the amount of lead in drinking water pipes and other plumbing fixtures. Long-term exposure to lead can adversely impact development in both infants and children. 

Bullet NACo has joined other organizations in asking the Senate to take up H.R. 3588. Click here to read the letter.

In EPA’s proposal, for the first time, fire hydrants would be covered under the act since they “can be, and are, used in emergency situations to provide drinking water.”

Hydrants are made from cast iron with interior components that contain lead. A number of groups have raised concerns with EPA’s proposal since fire hydrants are generally used only for short-term emergency drinking water sources and would not meet the long-term exposure threshold. NACo and several other groups have sent a letter of concern to EPA on this proposal

The proposal is unclear about when the hydrant would have to be replaced — immediately or through a retrofit plan.  Nor is the proposal clear on the impact to the industries who manufacture fire hydrants. Can lead-free components be substituted without compromising long-term safety and stability of fire hydrants? The question remains whether manufacturers can meet the Jan. 1, 2014 deadline in order to keep local governments and utilities compliant.

On Dec. 2, the House unanimously passed the Community Fire Safety Act of 2013 (H.R. 3588). It was introduced on Nov. 21 by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) in response to EPA’s proposal. The bill would add fire hydrants to the list of allowable devices such as toilets and shower valves that are exempt from the new lead standards.  NACo has joined other organizations in asking the Senate to take up H.R. 3588.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced S. 1779 as a companion bill to H.R. 3588 and is currently looking for Senate cosponsors. Please ask your senator to cosponsor Toomey’s bill. 

Major issues remain in year-end EPA regulatory agenda update

The Administration released its biannual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions Nov. 26. The agenda contains expected regulatory actions for all federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA clocks in with more than 100 regulations in pre-rule actions, proposed and final rules; rules recently completed and long-term rule-makings. A number of these proposed regulations are of particular importance to counties. 

Among the most important to counties, EPA sent a new “Waters of the U.S.” (WOUS) definition to the White House Office of Management and Budget for interagency review. WOUS defines which waters are under Clean Water Act (CWA) federal jurisdiction and therefore must follow federal laws. Such changes to WOUS are relevant to counties since counties both regulate and are regulated under CWA.

If the definition changes, so does the scope of CWA programs. Programs impacted through WOUS changes include National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL), Water Quality Standards and Section 404 permits. NACo has expressed concerns over proposals to broaden WOUS.

Other potential regulations of concern include, but are not limited to, storm water runoff from logging roads, Water Quality Standards Regulatory Clarifications, the NPDES program update rule, Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals, new emission standards for solid waste landfills and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone pollution, among others.

NACo is monitoring these regulations, looking for opportunities to make improvements either through the regulatory process or through targeted legislation.

(For more information, contact Julie Ufner,