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Engineering News-Record
Copyright 2002 McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Monday, February 25, 2002

Vol. 248, No. 7

WASHINGTON OBSERVER

Senate Bill Would Hike Funds For Water Infrastructure
By Tom Ichniowski

After being on the sidelines for a while, water infrastructure is gaining a higher Capitol Hill profile. On Feb. 15, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leaders introduced a bill that would authorize a huge federal aid boost for the state revolving funds that finance wastewater treatment and drinking water facilities. Bills also are expected in the House. But even if a big authorization passes, it will be up to appropriations panels to determine how much the programs will get each year. Appropriators aren't likely to approve such funding leaps. Still, the Senate bill may provide a push for an increase this year.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by fisheries, wildlife and water
subcommittee Chairman Bob Graham (D-Fla.), has full committee Chairman James
M. Jeffords (Ind.-Vt.) as a co-sponsor. It proposes $35 billion for
Environmental Protection Agency water infrastructure over five years. Clean
Water SRFs would get $20 billion, and drinking water SRFs $15 billion.

President Bush's 2003 budget proposes just $1.2 billion for Clean Water SRFs
and $850 million for drinking water. At a Feb. 13 hearing on EPA's budget,
Jeffords said he's concerned those requests aren't adequate. EPA Administrator
Christine Todd Whitman says those sums would let the revolving funds generate
more than $2 billion, even if there is no new money. "That is robust," she
says, but she also acknowledges that water requirements outstrip that funding.
"It's still going to need much more than that," she says.

The National Utility Contractors Association hailed the Senate bill. "All
the key components are in there," says Eben Wyman, vice president for
government relations. "The authorization levels, if this passes, will be
finally substantially increased. It's definitely a big step in the right
direction." NUCA is happy that the bill keeps the SRFs, rather than grants,
at the center of EPA's water program.

"In general, we're happy that the leadership has stepped up and said that
water infrastructure is a priority," says Tim Williams, the Water Environment
Federation's government affairs director. He calls the $35-billion funding "a
good start," but notes that the Water Infrastructure Network has said federal
contributions should be $57 billion over the five-year span. He is also
concerned that the bill would require local wastewater treatment agencies for
the first time to demonstrate "technical, managerial and financial
capacity," to receive SRF aid. The committee says the provision is based on
Safe Drinking Water Act mandates.

If appropriators don't adopt the authorizations, that could lead to "the
unhappy situation of having imposed a lot of new requirements on [SRF] loan
recipients without there being an infusion of new money," Williams says.

BILL PROPOSES INCREASE IN EPA WATER FUNDING
(in $ mil.)
APPROPRIATION ----PROPOSED AUTHORIZATIONS---
2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Clean Water SRF 1,350 3,200 3,200 3,600 4,000 6,000
Drinking Water SRF 850 1,500 2,000 2,000 3,500 6,000
Totals: 2,200 4,700 5,200 5,600 7,500 12,000
Sources: Office of Management and Budget, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

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