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Lawmakers Want More Infrastructure Funds In EPA Budget

Sen. George Voinovich  (R-Ohio) used EPA's budget hearing before the Environment and Public Works Committee to question Administrator Christine Todd Whitman about the level of water infrastructure funding in the agency’s FY2002 budget.  The hearing was held the week of May 14, 2001.

The budget includes $2.1 billion in grants to states for water infrastructure, including $850 million in the clean water state revolving loan fund (CW-SRF), $823 in the drinking water SRF and $450 million for a new program to address infrastructure needs related to combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows.  Voinovich noted that the budget for continued capitalization of the CW-SRF represented a $500 million cut from the $1.35 billion Congress has appropriated in recent years.

On the House side, a bipartisan group of 50 lawmakers sent a letter to Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Appropriations VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Subcommittee, asking for an increase in FY2002 funding for the CW-SRF to at least $1.35 billion.   They also requested full funding of $750 million for the new wet weather grants program.

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Water Infrastructure Hearings Held In House and Senate

The week of March 26, 2001 was a busy one for WIN with hearings in both the House and Senate. WIN testimony as well as other testimony and details of the hearings are now available.

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Controversy Competes With Testimony At Water Hearings
Courtesy of eenews (3/28/01)

Move over California, the nation's next crisis is here: water. In so many words, that was the theme that developed at a pair of House subcommittee hearings Wednesday aimed at uncovering the need for comprehensive drinking water and wastewater infrastructure funding and legislation. By day's end, in-depth testimony questioning the financial viability of a total overhaul of the nation's water systems had been matched by environmentally minded lawmakers sounding off over the most recent Bush administration move on the arsenic standard controversy.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christie Whitman appeared at her second hearing on the subject of water infrastructure in as many days. But the former New Jersey governor's testimony on the subject at hand was delayed while lawmakers pounced on her decision earlier this month to delay the Clinton administration rule changing the allowable level of arsenic in the nation's drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb. Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), in particular, made his feelings known during opening statements in the House Energy and Resources Committee hearing. Waxman, mimicking the Academy Awards ceremony, gave Whitman a "Golden Jackpot" trophy filled with chocolate for her decision to hold off on implementing the arsenic standards until further studies could be done.

Whitman said she agreed with Waxman that a standard needs to be set, only to say that other factors such as economics must be considered before the rule goes into effect. Maintaining her previous statements that a standard would be met before the 2006 deadline mandated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, Whitman added that she had not been directly lobbied on the issue by timber or mining industry officials. She also said White House officials kept their distance on the subject. Waxman, meanwhile, responded by saying water systems will continue to be polluted and the public health remains at risk while the EPA looks into the matter.

Later, after Whitman had finished giving her testimony, she said she was dismayed that the bigger picture of infrastructure issues was overlooked in favor of the arsenic rule. "If there are those who want to score partisan points, that is unfortunate," she said.

Whitman said EPA will address a number of key infrastructure issues is in its upcoming "gap analysis," a historical assessment expected this summer that will reveal previous capital investments on drinking water and wastewater and also addresses operations, maintenance and the costs of infrastructure improvements that could be passed on to consumers. In her testimony, Whitman pointed to all of those issues as key components for further evaluation. Also included in her list was emerging environmental and public health demands, notably arsenic.

Earlier in the day, committee heavyweights came out for the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on the same subject. Full Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), former Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), and subcommittee ranking member Rep. Robert Borski (D-Pa.) all made it clear that something needed to be done on water issues soon. Young emphatically said that water infrastructure is both "badly needed" and a "major crisis facing this country," suggesting that one solution would be to organize a federal agency to head up the issue while ensuring that there be no "waste in bureaucracy" and "waste on delays."

Many of Young's suggestions, also made by other lawmakers, are also seen in a February report compiled by the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN). According to the report, the nation is facing a $23 billion annual gap over the next 20 years that should be financed partially by federal funds. But Wednesday's morning hearing also gave a glimpse into some new criticisms to the WIN report. According to the Congressional Budget Office, which is conducting an ongoing review of the WIN report as requested by both the Transportation and Infrastructure and Energy and Commerce subcommittees, there are a number of inconsistencies that cause concern.

Perry Beider, a CBO principal analyst, said the WIN estimates are uncertain and possibly overblown. He said the "lion's share" of the proposed funds are aimed at investments on rehabilitating or replacing water and sewer pipes but there is no national inventory of pipe ages and conditions to base those investment needs. He said WIN analysts are relying on rough national assumptions that add significantly to the uncertainty seen in a 20-year cost projection. Beider also said that while the WIN report says needs have been underestimated, CBO has found factors suggesting the estimates may be too large.

On the potential impact on water consumers, Beider said that "proposals intended to address the equity problem of keeping rates affordable may adversely affect efficiency by raising total national costs." He said that considering the differences in expenses from one water system to the next based on each's operation and investment plans, federal funds should be provided in a way that gives system operators and water users the appropriate incentives to keep costs and usage down.

Like the EPA, Beider said the CBO is also looking into the affordability issues associated with infrastructure needs and will provide additional information later this year. In a related matter, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has asked the General Accounting Office to do its own outside review of the WIN report, though no indication was given at a Tuesday hearing if GAO was finished.

Lee Garrigan, a WIN spokeswoman, said her organization has been working with CBO officials on the analysis and welcomes the review. Regarding the CBO criticisms, she said infrastructure debate is a first for the nation and "everybody involved is feeling their waythrough." While there is no complete survey to determine the conditions and extent of the nation's underground water and wastewater pipes, Garrigan said it is clear from anecdotes on daily maintenance from across the country that there is a need to fund a comprehensive overhaul.

"You always have differences in numbers," she said. "This is Washington."

-- Darren Samuelsohn

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Committee Announces Plans To Pass Water Infrastructure Legislation This Congress

In its annual Views and Estimates report, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said it "intends to move water infrastructure legislation in this Congress to address [infrastructure needs], with significantly increased authorization levels beginning in FY 2003." The report cited estimates of drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs released by the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN), a group of more than 30 organizations.

The main purpose of the report is to signal Congressional budget committee leaders to raise the self-imposed budget caps that determine the amount of appropriations Congress can approve for various programs.

The first step in the committee’s efforts to pass legislation is a hearing set for March 28 on water and wastewater infrastructure needs by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Hearings are also expected to be held this spring by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. (3/19/01) (Courtesy of AMWA).

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Call For More Infrastructure Funding Comes From All Corners

In the last few weeks since the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) released its drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs analysis and recommendations for addressing them, several parties have echoed WIN’s call.

The supporters include several senators, Republican and Democratic, who sent President Bush a letter on March 14 urging him to boost infrastructure funding in his forthcoming budget. Also, its annual recommendations to budget committee leaders, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee expressed a need to increase the budget limits on water infrastructure funding.

Another group called the Clean Water Network, a loose coalition of environmental groups, also called on Congress for more funding. In a March 14 letter, the group recommended a significant boost in infrastructure funds for water and wastewater systems.

The Clean Water Network outlined five sets of criteria for infrastructure funding:

  • funds should only be for water and wastewater needs and source water protection.
  • funds should not subsidize new development.
  • the funding program should assure accountability by fund recipients.
  • funds could be used to restructure or consolidate systems that are in significant noncompliance with the law.
  • priority should be given to projects that address the most serious threats to public health; systems with the greatest need, based on affordability; and small systems with compliance problems.

Also, the Environmental Council of States, a coalition of state environment department directors, passed a resolution at their recent conference urging Congress to increase infrastructure funding. (3/19/01) (Courtesy of AMWA).

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EPA Estimate About One-Third Of True Infrastructure Needs

In February 2001, EPA released its latest estimate of drinking water infrastructure needs, based on surveys of about 3,800 water systems in 1999. The survey found that the total infrastructure need nationwide is $150.9 billion for the next 20 years. The report may be downloaded from www.epa.gov/ogwdw/needs.html.

However, the reported total only covers specific documented infrastructure needs, mainly those related to compliance with current and future EPA rules. It does not include the vast majority of needs not documented by states, including the cost of replacing aging treatment facilities and distribution systems, which represents the largest infrastructure expense facing the nation's water suppliers. EPA concedes that the survey underestimates the true need due to the stringent documentation requirements.

By comparison to the Water Infrastructure Network's (WIN) analysis, the EPA data only represents about one-third of the total infrastructure costs facing the nation's 55,000 water suppliers. WIN based its findings not only on EPA data, but also on information from the Department of Commerce, the Census Bureau, the American Water Works Association and projections based on when pipe was laid and treatment facilities were built.

In February AMWA and the other members of WIN offered a blueprint to Congress to help cover some of these overwhelming costs. Water Infrastructure Now, released on February 13 at the U.S. Capitol, asks Congress to provide $57 billion over the next five years in loans and grants for drinking water and wastewater systems. (Courtesy of AMWA),

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Senators Ask For Infrastructure Increase In Bush 2002 Budget

President Bush will soon receive a letter signed by a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators urging him to boost water infrastructure funding in his FY 2002 budget plan. The letter, directed to the president, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and OMB Director Mitchell Daniels, urges increased federal assistance to help communities "protect public health and promote economic well-being by leveraging critical investments in America's existing water and wastewater infrastructure.

The Senators ask Bush to significantly increase both the drinking water and clean water state revolving funds. While the letter does not suggest a specific funding level, it does say a recent EPA estimate of a $220 billion water infrastructure funding shortfall may be too low. The latest report of the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN), which is credited with sparking current congressional interest in the issue, recommended that Congress provide $57 billion over a five-year period for water infrastructure maintenance, repairs and improvements.

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Bill Introduced To Fund Small Community Drinking Water Upgrades

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week introduced the Small Community Drinking Water Act. The bill would provide as much as $500 million a year in grants for towns with a population under 10,000 to upgrade their drinking water systems. The funds would be used to remove a host of unsafe contaminants in drinking water, including arsenic. (3/12/01).

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Drinking Water Infrastructure Graded "D"

In an annual Report Card on America's Infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers, drinking water infrastructure received a grade of "D" for the second year in a row. The society cited drinking water infrastructure systems as "quintessential examples of aged systems that need to be updated." Overall, the society gave the nation's infrastructure (including transportation, wastewater, waste and energy sectors) a "D+" and estimated the five year infrastructure needs shortfall at $1.3 trillion. The low overall grade resulted from explosive population growth and school enrollment, local political opposition and "red tape" and the growing obsolescence of aging systems. To see the report, visit www.asce.org/reportcard. (3/12/01).

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