I work for Congressman Mike Honda in his Washington DC office on Federal Environmental Policy. I also support his work as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, specifically in his role on the Energy and Water subcommittee. While I currently live and work in Washington DC, I grew up in Fremont, and am very familiar with the odor issue.
My role in joining this group is to provide information to the group on Rep. Honda’s past and current actions relevant to this issue, and to provide insights on the Federal government, its agencies, and what it is capable of doing on this issue. I am also working closely with members of Rep. Honda’s district office staff: District Director, Lenine Umali, and Director of Constituent Services, Cathy Ming-Hyde.
Last week, I was in California and had a great meeting with some of the members of your group to learn more about your interactions with the governmental offices who should be leading the way in acting on this issue, since all of the primary decision makers are at either the state or local government, and I have reported to Rep. Honda about the meeting.
I will now outline in detail, Rep. Honda’s relevant work on this issue. Briefly Summarized:
1) Working to ensure federal agencies are aware and involved – Both the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
2) Using his position as a leader on the Appropriations committee to allocate funds to the above agencies and to the Bureau of Reclamation.
As a Member of Congress, Rep. Honda has authority to work with Federal Agencies. With respect to the odor issue, the two of relevance are the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which manages the nearby Wildlife Refuge and Salt Ponds, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Rep. Honda personally asked the Director of FWS to have his agency be involved in the odor discussion, and they joined the odor stakeholder group. Right now, Rep. Honda is working with the EPA to bring a workshop on their new ‘Managing Waste Streams Tool’ to the district in August. However, these agencies are limited in the action they can take on the odor issue.
FWS only has authority over the wetlands and salt ponds, and while they allowed sensors to be placed on those lands, not much else can be done in their domain. The EPA regulates hazardous waste, but not municipal (household) waste, and while they do regulate air quality under the Clean Air Act, odors are not included. This is because when the Clean Air Act was drafted in the 70s there were (and still are) many factories or facilities across the country, particularly in the South, that create nuisance odors, and are vehemently opposed to such regulation.
Today, the GOP has a supermajority in the House, and a majority in the Senate. This means that they essentially control all legislation that comes up for a vote. Every piece of environmental legislation that has come up in the House since they took control has focused on gutting the EPA, reducing environmental regulations, and allowing polluters to pollute more. Rep. Honda has consistently voted against these bad bills, and has been recognized for doing so and for his environmental leadership by the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife.
In Congress, Rep. Honda sits on the powerful Appropriations committee. While each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives can submit ‘requests’ for how to fund our federal programs, the 50 members of the Appropriations committee are the ones who actually make the decisions. Rep. Honda is the lead Democrat of the Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee, which funds science research and agencies like NASA and NOAA, and he is a senior member of the Energy and Water subcommittee, which funds the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation.
It took Rep. Honda over a decade in Congress to gain the seniority necessary to be placed in these positions of influence. With the GOP in the majority, and with their ban on earmarks, which used to direct funds to specific projects within a member’s district, positions of influence in the appropriations process are far more important than before.
With regards to the odor issue, Rep. Honda has consistently requested and succeeded in increasing funding for the Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART and Title XVI program. These programs support grants for improving water efficiency and recycling. Milpitas has already benefited from these programs, as this money was used to fund the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center(SVAWPC), which is on Zanker Road, close to the San Jose-Santa Clara Waste Water Treatment Facility. The SVAWPC takes water that has been treated by the waste water facility, and brings it to near-distilled water purity.
Rep. Honda will be working this year to further increase Title XVI funding so that the SVAWPC can undergo an upgrade to expand their capacity. However, I must note, that water recycling projects do not actually solve the problem of the ‘sludge’ collected from the primary water treatment process, they instead make treated water re-usable and re-drinkable.
As a final note, my posts here are done in my official capacity as a member of Congressman Honda’s staff, and as such, I do not have any affiliation or contact with any campaign.
Laurie Chong, Ph.D.
Office of Congressman Mike Honda
1713 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515