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House Leaders Call for GAO Report on Funding Infrastructure Needs

Katherine Boyle, E&E Daily reporter

Three congressional leaders yesterday asked the Government Accountability Office to create a report studying ways to fund U.S. water infrastructure needs.

Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) sent a letter to GAO Comptroller General David Walker asking him to look at ways to finance a Clean Water Trust Fund that would provide at least $10 billion per year to maintain and upgrade wastewater treatment and sewer-collection systems.

"Our nation's water infrastructure needs have grown while funding for clean water has been declining," the letter says. "Many wastewater treatment systems are nearing the end of their useful design lives."

The members cite studies by GAO, U.S. EPA, the Congressional Budget Office and the Water Infrastructure Network that say there is a $300 billion to $500 billion funding gap over the next 20 years between what is currently being spent on water infrastructure and what is needed.

"To guarantee consistent long-term funding for water infrastructure, we must identify a dedicated source of revenue that is both logical and sustainable," Oberstar said in a statement. "We know it is possible, because we already have the Highway Trust Fund and Aviation Trust Fund. Once a sustainable funding source for water infrastructure investment is identified, I hope to take up legislation creating a new Clean Water Trust Fund in the next Congress."

Johnson emphasized the need for the study, noting that the House passed H.R. 720, the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007, last year, but the bill stalled in the Senate. That legislation authorized $14 billion over four years for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program.

Oberstar, Johnson and Blumenauer asked GAO to consult with federal, state and local government agencies, as well as representatives of industry and publicly owned waterworks, while creating the report.

The members requested that GAO complete the study by Jan. 15, 2009.

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