This vote was on an amendment that would have relaxed requirements that water suppliers provide their customers with annual reports on the source of their water and any contaminants that have been found in it.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) offered the amendment during consideration of legislation that authorizes federal programs to assist farmers and low-income Americans. Under existing law, public water systems were required to mail their customers a water quality report once every year. Sen. Toomey’s amendment would have relaxed that requirement, allowing water providers to choose to either continue mailing the report or simply posting it online and providing the link in each customer’s monthly bill. In the case in which a regulated contaminant violated the maximum limit, the water supplier would still have been required to send the report by mail to all customers.
Sen. Toomey argued that his amendment would have allowed water suppliers to save on mailing costs while maintaining customers’ ability to access the water quality reports.
“There are absolutely no changes whatsoever in water standards (in the amendment), of course, and every company would still have to mail these detailed reports if the water failed to comply with the state or federal standards,” Sen. Toomey said. “This is a way we can free up tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary mailing costs and make that available for infrastructure investment.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who opposed the amendment, noted that not all water suppliers had a website. Regular reports, delivered through the mail, represented the best way to ensure people had access to information about the contaminants in their water supply, she argued.
“Today our families receive in the mail just once a year a report about the safety of the water their kids drink every single day. The Toomey amendment repeals that important right to know,” Sen. Boxer said. “There are 70 regulated dangerous contaminants in our water. For example: arsenic, benzene, vinyl chloride, asbestos, cadmium, mercury, radium, and uranium. Some of these dangerous toxins are deemed unsafe at any level. Yet under Toomey you would no longer receive that information.”
Even though Sen. Toomey’s amendment received 58 “yea” votes and only 41 voted “nay,” it was defeated because it was brought up under Senate rules that required 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 46 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 41 Democrats, including a majority of progressives. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to relax requirements that water suppliers provide their customers with annual reports on the source of their water and any contaminants that have been found in it.