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Dan Spencer

On perchlorate, regulators have abandoned duty to public

In California, the state’s financial and weather outlooks are in many ways the same: all dried up. Now, environmental lobbyists and restless government regulators aim to worsen the forecast for both.

The duo have managed success largely as a consequence of the complicated nature of the issue, relying on an uninformed and distracted public — like cattle to the slaughter, taxpayers and consumers won’t know what’s happened until it’s already over.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)—think of it as red tape ground zero—recently revised the state’s public health goal for perchlorate, from six parts per billion (ppb) to a unnecessary and expensive standard of one ppb. Perchlorate is a manufactured chemical that also happens to be present naturally at low levels.

Don’t get lost in the science of parts per billion: a tighter standard simply means that the state regulators would force water utilities, consumers and farmers to cover the hundreds of millions of dollars in clean up costs to go from already-safe water with negligible traces of perchlorate to safe water with no trace of perchlorate.

So, what’s the problem with ever so slightly cleaner water? In a vacuum, maybe none. But the ramifications of this regulation would never stop rippling. Because perchlorate occurs naturally, Californians will be treating their water forever and with no measurable improvement in the health or welfare of the people.

Virtually all of the most recent peer-reviewed science continues to show that low-levels of perchlorate, as it’s normally found, pose no risk to public health.

Short of the sky literally raining down cash money, state and municipal governments lack the resources, both natural and economic, to shoulder this unnecessary cleanup.

Here, water is already in such short supply, and low-levels of naturally occurring perchlorate is so pervasive, that tightening the allowable standard will require local governments to divert hundreds of millions in tax dollars to finance the filtration campaign.

Consider the case of Rialto, California, where city officials have estimated that it could run as much as $300 million to scrub its water table of perchlorate. That is just one California city.

The costs for consumers, too, would be staggering.

New treatment plants would need to be built and existing plants would require costly retrofitting. These costs would be transferred directly to the consumers — meaning higher water prices at best and intense water shortages at worst.

But it’s not just California where lobbyists hope to smother taxpayers and consumers in new red tape.

Four years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weighed lowering the federal perchlorate recommendation from 15 parts per billion down to California’s old standard of 6 parts per billion. After an exhaustive review of the science and projected economic impact, the Inspector General of the EPA said he believed tightening the standard would have no discernible impact on public health and would come at a massive cost.

Allow that to properly sink in: the Environmental Protection Agency’s own Inspector General said that lowering the federal standard down to 6 parts per billion—which, you’ll remember, California dumped for an even more conservative standard—would not positively impact public health. He also told the EPA that it was the most expensive way to achieve the least effective outcome.

Why then do lobbyists and regulators remain intent on pursuing this path? The simple answer is ideology. All else—science, costs, and even people—is secondary.

Environmental regulators have a pretty sacred responsibility to protect the public, guarding it—and in turn, us—against bad actors. But California’s environmental watchdogs have abandoned this obligation to the public and are allowing activists with an agenda to scare the public.

Sure, the issue is densely complicated and the science can be dizzying, but we had better tune in before it’s too late—we don’t have much water or money to spare, after all.

Dan Spencer has been writing about politics for eleven years from the perspective of a California country boy. He is a contributing editor at the popular conservative blog