EPA Says Law Bars San Diego From a Sewage Plant Waiver

TIMES STAFF WRITER

EPA Administrator William Reilly told San Diego's congressional delegation Thursday that the city is prohibited by law from seeking another waiver of federal requirements to upgrade its sewage treatment.

However, in a meeting described by one staffer as "a show of force on both sides," he agreed to review his agency's policies on granting waivers.

Using a diplomatic phrase that resonates stalemate, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado), described the first-ever meeting between the congressmen and the bureaucrat as "a frank and open discussion."

"(Reilly) doesn't consider a waiver possible at this time," Hunter said in a joint statement about the meeting. "Our delegation, therefore, is currently studying ways in which this problem could be solved legislatively."

The delegation said the $2-billion cost of the improvements to upgrade to "secondary" treatment levels would be a terrific waste of money. The money, they told Reilly, would be better spent on maintaining the present system, which earlier this month suffered a catastrophic rupture of its ocean outfall, the large pipe that dumps the city's partially treated effluent into the sea.

Reilly said he would review the Environmental Protection Agency's policies on granting waivers after he sees a National Academy of Sciences study on "secondary sewage treatment on deep ocean outfalls in coastal urban areas." The report is scheduled to be released next September, and Reilly said he is "hopeful" that it will focus on the San Diego situation.

Though the joint press release seemed to suggest chummy delegation teamwork, not everyone was thrilled by the idea of having the meeting. Aides to Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), who is headed toward a nasty primary contest with Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-San Diego), said they sensed some poaching going on. Lowery recently has received credit for his role in obtaining $10 million to fix the ruptured sewage outfall. And some staffers in his office sniffed that the Reilly meeting was cooked up so the rival Cunningham could insert himself into the issue.

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