April 06, 2015

EPA Must Not Undercut Water Projects

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The importance of having clean water cannot be overstated.  The fact that we can turn on the tap in most places of our country and know that the water we drink will not make us sick happens because communities across our nation invest in the infrastructure necessary to ensure high water quality.  This is not easy, especially with often rigid and increasingly stringent federal mandates and limited pools of resources to meet them.  My hat goes off to the towns across Idaho and our nation that deliver clean water while facing unfunded, new federal mandates and growing pressures on our water resources. 

Federal agencies levying hefty fines on small communities struggling to fund water quality improvement projects is counterproductive to achieving higher water quality.  Such heavy-handed tactics deplete the limited resources the communities have to improve water quality.  Working with the communities and leveraging resources to make any needed improvements is a far more productive path.  That is why I have long been a proponent of requiring the federal government to step up to the plate and assist local communities with meeting their water treatment needs.   

As a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), I recently had the opportunity to question Administration officials on why they would choose to cut water quality assistance in the President's recent budget request for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The federal government has an overspending problem, and we must cut deficit spending to get our nation on a sustainable economic path.  However, as we work to decrease the deficit, assistance with ensuring a life essential-clean water-is an unreasonable target when the Administration is proposing increasing funding for programs and initiatives that remain controversial. 

Despite the EPA asking for $8.6 billion in spending, a 6 percent increase, the EPA calls for a reduction in funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds.  Revolving funds, such as these, combine federal, state and local resources to make improvements while loan repayments fund additional water projects and maintain a continued funding source.  For every federal dollar invested in the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Funds, community wastewater systems have received $3 in assistance, and $1.75 in assistance for every dollar invested in the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds.  Unfortunately, the Administration's proposed reduction will shrink the available resources for small communities needingassistance to ensure their water systems meet state and federal environmental regulations.

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, cities are spending $115 billion a year to provide water and wastewater services and meet federal mandates.  Communities are investing nearly 50 times more in these services than the federal government invests in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.  Taking a hard look at how we are asking cities to spend their citizens' money, and especially absent sufficient federal funding, examining the mandates themselves are important steps.  To truly make progress, the federal government should not simply overwhelm communities with unfunded mandates.  Water infrastructure investments safeguard public health and support jobs.  Enabling these projects, rather than undercutting them, must be a priority.

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