On March 7, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on the Water Quality Protection and Jobs Creation Act of 2019 (H.R. 1497). This bill would more than double the size of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program – an EPA wastewater grant program. The bill has bipartisan support in the House and received praise from both sides of the aisle during hearing.
Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who also serves as chair of the Water Resources and Environment Committee as well as member of the Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 1497. The bill would allow Congress to appropriate $4 billion annually to the State Revolving Fund (SRF), which provides low-interest wastewater infrastructure loans to utilities. The loan program receives, on average, $1.3 billion from Congress in a typical year, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that for communities to remain in compliance with the Clean Water Act will require more than $271 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.
Earlier this week, WEF and others in the water sector sent a letter in support of the legislation to the chairs and ranking members of the Water Resources and Environment Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee .
During the hearing, Andrew Kricun, Executive Director of the Municipal Utilities Authority in Camden County, N.J., emphasized that utilities like his can’t afford major capital projects without the low-cost financing available through SRF. Others providing testimony from rural communities echoed his point.
DeFazio said the testimony shows why Congress should allocate more dollars for water infrastructure rather than trying to boost public–private partnerships.
Besides expanding the CWSRF, H.R. 1497 would create grant programs to help sewage and stormwater systems struggling to comply with federal water pollution laws. The program would allot $1.5 billion to states and another $900 million directly to cities.
While H.R. 1497 has two Republican backers in the House, other Republicans said more attention should be paid to what the called excessively strict environmental regulations that drive up the costs of water.
“I don’t think that just throwing money at the problem is always the answer,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), who is the top Republican on the subcommittee. “I think that we can be smarter about the policies we put in place.”
Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), the subcommittee chair and the one of the bill’s cosponsors, said there are no particular Senators she is talking to about this legislation at the moment, but hopes the hearing will help spread the word. (Bloomberg BNA, 3/7/19)