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Members Quiz Jackson On Water Infrastructure Grants For Small Communities

Katherine Boyle, E&E reporter

Members of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday welcomed a massive increase in funding for water infrastructure projects in President Obama's fiscal 2010 budget proposal for U.S. EPA but emphasized the agency will need to provide grants, rather than loans, to struggling rural communities and tribes.

Ranking member Michael Simpson (D-Idaho) said he applauded the $3.9 billion infusion of cash for clean water and drinking water infrastructure in the $10.5 billion White House proposal but noted many small communities can ill-afford loans.

Committee Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) seconded Simpson's call, describing a backlog of water infrastructure projects that will take years and billions of dollars to vanquish.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson emphasized EPA's dedication to improving drinking water across the nation, though she acknowledged the agency does not have enough money to solve every problem. "Small communities deserve the same caliber and quality of water as larger ones," she said. "EPA would like to work with Congress to come up with a solution that makes clean water affordable."

Jackson also acknowledged the problems facing tribes, which she said face many of the same problems plaguing rural communities without having a tax base to supplement their water projects.
Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.) said he was pleased Jackson acknowledged tribal needs and the trouble facing small communities. He noted they often have to pay too much for water projects because of the limited number of people among whom to split the cost.

Jackson said some solutions to water infrastructure problems may be found in legislation recently passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that would authorize nearly $35 billion in water projects. S.1005 would modernize the grant formula used to distribute clean water infrastructure funds to benefit low-income communities, using a new grant formula is based on a 2004 EPA study (E&ENews PM, May 14).

Great Lakes
Jackson also said EPA is considering creating a Great Lakes advisory position, similar to the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River advisory post held by Chuck Fox.

The Great Lakes adviser would advise Jackson on steps being taken to clean up remaining areas of concern in the Great Lakes and the cost of the project. The position would arrive on the heels of a proposed $475 million injection of cash for the Great Lakes in Obama's budget proposal, a significant boost from previous years.
House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) praised the administration's commitment to the Great Lakes but emphasized the need for a clear plan to deal with challenges ranging from invasive species to viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a deadly fish virus.

"I am pleased about the administration's request," he said. "I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I would like to make sure the money ... spent is actually going to do something."

On Obey's agenda: cleaning up mercury deposits and preventing ballast water pollution.

There are various studies by various agencies, but in the end, you need sound science, he said.

Jackson said the agency would draw upon the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration to guide its efforts, noting that hundreds of stakeholders have weighed in on the plan devised by the Great Lakes states.

She acknowledged the plan called for a $20 billion investment and said the fiscal 2010 proposal could appear to be a drop in the bucket. "We will still make sure it's not lost in all the work that's going to be done" at EPA in the future, she said. "We see it as a real opportunity ... to make sure EPA gets nothing but A pluses."

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