EPA drops $569 million in response to Hurricane Sandy sewage spill

The Obama administration said Thursday it would spend more than half a billion dollars to repair and upgrade water treatment plants in New York and New Jersey that released vast amounts of sewage into East Coast waterways after Hurricane Sandy hit.

One research group quickly dismissed the action as a “Band-Aid” and urged more aggressive approach to avoid a repeat of the debacle, citing growing threats of climate change.

An estimated 11 billion gallons of raw sewage flooded waterways and streets from Washington, D.C., to Connecticut after the storm bludgeoned the East Coast in October, prompting public health concerns.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials described geysers of wastewater spraying from manholes, and episodes in which divers had to be sent into underground pools of raw sewage to repair leaks.

On Thursday, the agency announced it would offer grants totaling $340 million for New York and $229 million for New Jersey to pay for both repairs and improvements to facilities in the two states.

“We know that Sandy will not be the last superstorm we face,” Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said during a news conference. “But investments like the ones we’re announcing today will help ensure that the next one of her size won’t cause the overwhelming destruction we saw in Sandy’s wake.”

The agency’s action is authorized under the Disaster Relief Act of 2013, enacted earlier this year. 

Even absent the cuts, the administration’s action fails to address the larger problem of rising sea levels related to global warming, according to a statement issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“New York City and New Jersey communities are getting some welcome relief today, but handing out grants is slapping a Band-Aid on a much larger problem,” said Angela Anderson, director of the group’s Climate and Energy Program. “This year, who knows which communities may get pummeled.”

The UCS, an independent research group, urged the administration and Congress to develop a plan to provide funding to all coastal communities so that they can implement changes needed to adapt to rising tides.