Comparative case study of legislative attempts to require private well testing in New Jersey and Maine

Flanagan, Sara V.; Zheng, Yan

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & POLICY, 85 40-46; SI 10.1016/j.envsci.2018.03.022 JUL 2018

Abstract: At present one of the greatest barriers to reducing exposure to naturally occurring arsenic from unregulated private well water is a lack of well testing. The New Jersey Private Well Testing Act (PWTA) has since 2002 required testing during real estate transactions. Due to limitations in relying on individual well owners to take protective actions, such state-wide testing regulations have been shown to make a significant contribution towards exposure reduction. This study examines the New Jersey PWTA as a case of testing requirements successfully adopted into law, and failed attempts to pass equivalent requirements in Maine for comparison. Although New Jersey’s long history of drinking water quality problems due to population density, an industrial past, and vulnerable aquifers was the root of the PWTA and earlier local testing ordinances, several high-profile events immediately prior focused public and legislator attention and mobilized environmental advocacy groups to gain political support statewide. Viewed through Kingdon’s Multiple Streams framework, the PWTA was the result of problem, policy, and politics streams successfully aligned during a significant and unique political window of opportunity. In Maine, where naturally occurring arsenic, not industrial contamination, is the primary concern, private sector opposition and a conservative administration resistant to government involvement in “private” well water, all played a role in blocking legislative attempts to require testing. A modest education and outreach bill without testing mandates passed in 2017 after compromise among stakeholders. For policy to be an effective tool to achieve universal well water screening, a philosophical evolution on the role of government in private water may be necessary.

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