Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Senate Hearing On America’s Wastewater Infrastructure Needs

Sep 19: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality, Chaired by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) held a hearing entitled, "Meeting America’s Wastewater Infrastructure Needs in the 21st Century." Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator for Water, U.S. EPA; the Mayor of Trenton, New Jersey and President, U.S. Conference of Mayors; the Mayor of Carencro, Louisiana and Board Member, Louisiana Rural Water Association; the Chief of the Financial Assistance Division of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and Vice President of the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities; the Assistant City Attorney, Public Works General Counsel for the City of Los Angeles and President of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies; and the Director, Clean Water Program, Natural Resources Defense Council.

A press briefing on September 18, prior to the hearing included: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Environment Public Works Committee; and representatives from the National Association of Clean water Agencies (NACWA); Associated General Contractors of America (AGC); the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC); American Rivers, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

At the briefing, Patrick Natale, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said, "Unfortunately, 35 years after enactment of the Clean Water Act, commitment to maintaining this vital resource has dwindled. With an estimated funding gap of as much as $500 billion over the next 20 years, the nation is facing the very real possibility that we will wind up with a lesser water quality than existed prior to the Clean Water Act's passage in 1972. That is unacceptable... It is time that Congress hears our message--we must renew federal investment in our nation's vital water and wastewater infrastructure, or risk reversing the public health, environmental and economic gains of the past three decades..." ASCE's delivered its Report Card for America's Infrastructure and Action Plan for the 110th Congress.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) delivered opening remarks saying, the Clean Water SRF is the cornerstone of federal clean water assistance to the nation’s cities and towns. Since its creation in 1987, the Clean Water SRF has saved its borrowers over $3.7 billion in interest costs and also provided $8.2 billion in funding to improve the nation’s water quality. Importantly, the federal government has provided $24 billion in state capitalization grants. In 2006, there was more than $60 billion available for loans to communities.

Inhofe stated, "The effort that we are about to undertake will be the fourth time in four Congresses that we have attempted to move a water infrastructure bill. Only one of our previous three attempts at passing a water infrastructure bill was bipartisan. I hope that this year we can again have a bipartisan bill as we did last Congress under my leadership and that we can work together to move it to the Senate floor. To do so, we must avoid many of the mistakes of previous efforts. The bill must be clean of too many additional requirements on the applicants. We are not providing grants through the current SRF. These are loans to be repaid by municipalities. In order to truly provide them with federal assistance in meeting their regulatory obligations under the federal environmental statutes, we must provide loans with as few strings attached as possible. There are legislative proposals pending that include additional requirements for states and localities to meet. While I am sure someone can find value in almost all of these requirements, I am concerned their cumulative impact may be to create a program far too burdensome for anyone to use.
Additionally, in previous attempts, even last year, we failed to come to a unified committee resolution to the issue of Davis-Bacon. Failing to do so again will likely result in yet another stalemate..."

EPA's Grumbles testified that, "...of the 222.8 million people served by wastewater treatment facilities, more than 98.5 percent (219.5 million people) are served by “secondary treatment” (or better), a technical but important term of art that refers to a biological treatment process designed to remove dissolved organic matter from wastewater. Secondary treatment may remove up to 90 percent of remaining biological matter such as human waste, food waste, soaps and detergent. More than 281 million people receive drinking water on a daily basis from more than 52,000 community water systems throughout the nation...

"Over the past 20 years, communities have spent more than $1 trillion (in 2001 dollars) on infrastructure, operations and maintenance for wastewater treatment and disposal and drinking water treatment and supply. But, it may not be enough to keep pace with America's aging infrastructure systems... the potential gap between spending and needs between 2000 and 2019 would be approximately $122 billion (in 2001 dollars) for wastewater infrastructure and $102 billion (in 2001 dollars) for drinking water infrastructure. If revenue grows at 3% per year, a projection that is consistent with long-term growth estimates of the economy, the gap is approximately $21 billion (in 2001 dollars) for wastewater infrastructure and $45 billion (in 2001 dollars) for drinking water infrastructure..."

Grumbles said that in addition to the SRF programs EPA is proposing an important new tool -- Water Enterprise Bonds -- to accelerate and increase investment in the nation’s water infrastructure. Water Enterprise Bonds will enhance access and flexibility for utilities to issue private activity bonds for public-purpose drinking water and wastewater facilities. He said the Agency is also looking aggressively for innovative ways to reduce costs and increase incentives to foster sustainable water infrastructure investment and management. Overall he said, "The Agency has approached the challenge of keeping pace with infrastructure needs of the future by developing a comprehensive strategy built upon what we call the 'Four Pillars of Sustainable Infrastructure' --better management, full cost pricing, water efficiency, and the watershed approach." He also acknowledged that, "Increasingly, we understand climate change may have impacts on water infrastructure and watersheds that will affect our actions under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and various ocean and coastal laws."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, opening statements and a webcast (
click here). Access the ASCE statement and link to the report card and related information (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). [*Water]

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U.S. PIRG Report On State Renewable Electricity Standards
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