New EPA Chief Has a Tight Rope to Walk

On Friday, February 17th, the Senate voted along party lines to confirm Scott Pruitt as the new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The former Oklahoma Attorney General has been an outspoken opponent of the prior administration’s EPA, even bringing lawsuits against the agency for Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act regulations, including the Waters of the U.S. rule the Clean Water Council also opposes.

On the following Tuesday, Pruitt addressed the EPA’s workforce, hundreds of which actively fought his confirmation. “We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and we can be pro-environment, and we don’t have to choose between the two,” Pruitt said.

As administrator, Pruitt will have the opportunity to undo significant bureaucracy that slow down, in some cases for years, projects designed to fight pollution, clean water, and make greater use and efficiency of our water resources. Hampering  the progress of water infrastructure by excessive, unnecessary, and counter-intuitive reports and regulations, as has been the position of previous EPA era officials, only exacerbates the environmental harm being done currently.

Lessening regulations to allow water infrastructure projects to move forward more quickly and easily will help eliminate wastewater pipes polluting the ground, clean the water systems that provide drinking water to our schools and hospitals, and other environmental threats that are currently happening across our country. Making projects designed to mitigate these ailments more difficult, as regulations have become, only makes matters worse.

Nevertheless, Pruitt will have to deal with a hostile, and possibly insubordinate staff in order to begin rescinding or replacing previous rules, making the new administrators task of helping the environment much more difficult.

We, at the Clean Water Council, believe that environmental precautions make sense for everyone when they are logical and meet a clearly stated objective. We want clean water, but in order to do that we have to be able to build clean water systems.

 

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More Than $655 Billion Needed for Water Infrastructure

In her exit memo, former EPA chief Gina McCarthy highlights a growing need for water infrastructure investment. Over the next 20 years, Administrator McCarthy estimates the need for more than $655 billion in investments into drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Perhaps most notable about this enormous figure is that it does not include the cost of replacing lead pipes, like those neglected in Flint, Michigan.

While under McCarthy’s direction, EPA funded $16 billion in wastewater infrastructure projects and $10 billion in drinking water infrastructure projects. The sad truth is that these numbers only represent about 10% of the investment needed. According to the 2030 Water Resources Group’s 2009 report, Charting our Water Future, over the next 20 years, demand for clean water will be 40% greater than today. Continuing to under-fund our water infrastructure investment will, in other words, only get worse, more expensive, and more destructive to our safety and economy.

Water infrastructure is an issue Congress can no longer ignore. The longer America waits to address the water gap, the more expensive and difficult it will be to resolve. As water is the most fundamental of human needs, the Clean Water Council expects Congress to take decisive action to fund water projects by working in a cooperative, bipartisan fashion that reflects our collective need for access to clean water.

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More than $655 Billion Needed for Water Infrastructure

In her exit memo, former EPA chief Gina McCarthy highlights a growing need for water infrastructure investment. Over the next 20 years, Administrator McCarthy estimates the need for more than $655 billion in investments into drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Perhaps most notably about this enormous figure is that it does not include the cost of replacing lead pipes, like those neglected in Flint, Michigan.

While under McCarthy’s direction, EPA funded $16 billion in wastewater infrastructure projects and $10 billion in drinking water infrastructure projects. The sad truth is that these numbers only represent about 10% of the investment needed. According to the 2030 Water Resources Group’s 2009 report Charting our Water Future, over the next 20 years demand for clean water will be 40% greater than today. Continuing to under-fund our water infrastructure investment will, in other words, only get worse, more expensive, and more destructive to our safety and economy.

Water infrastructure is an issue Congress can no longer ignore. The longer America waits to address the water gap, the more expensive and difficult it will be to resolve. As water is the most fundamental of human needs, the Clean Water Council expects Congress to take decisive action to fund water projects by working in a cooperative, bipartisan fashion that reflects our collective need for access to clean water.

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EPA Starts WIFIA

Yesterday, January 10,2016, the EPA launched the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. The program was initially included as a part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act that passed Congress in 2014, and has been being stood up by EPA over the past two years. The Continuing Resolution that Congress passed in December included the appropriations to capitalize the program with $20 million that the EPA says will provide up to $2 billion in infrastructure investment. This is a new financing source that the Clean Water Council fully supports and advocated for in 2014.

There are some, including the Clean Water Council, who are concerned that WIFIA will undercut the successful and popular State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs. The SRFs are the largest line item in EPA’s budget and has been the target of appropriations cuts since 2010. The SRF programs are intended to focus on infrastructure upgrades in low-income communities by providing low interest loans and grants.

WIFIA, which was modeled after TIFIA, the popular transportation infrastructure project program, will provide low-cost, long term project financing for water infrastructure projects. To be eligible for WIFIA financing assistance projects must be larger than $20 million ($5 million if serving a community of less than 25,000 people) and come up with 51% of the projects cost from other sources.

The Clean Water Council is pleased to see WIFIA come to fruition. We understand that Congress has expressed its intention for SRF and WIFIA programs to supplement each other and we hope Congress maintains that position, as our country remains in critical need of water infrastructure investment and upgrades.

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Congress Ends Year with Water; Budget Legislation

The 114th session of Congress came to a close last week, only after Congress passed important water infrastructure legislation, and a bill to fund the government until April 2017.

The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, was signed into law last week. WIIN authorized $10 billion in new water infrastructure, navigation, flood control, and clean drinking water projects. Additionally, it authorized 30 Army Corps of Engineers water resources projects, and substantial funding for water infrastructure repair through the EPA’s State Revolving Funds and the newly capitalized WIFIA program. We at the Clean Water Council have been proponents of the WIFIA program and have rigorously advocated capitalization of the program, which provides low interest financing for large-scale ($20 million or greater, or $5 million for communities less than 25,000 people) water infrastructure.

Congress also passed, and the President signed, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government until April 28, 2017. This legislation extends current funding levels for the State Revolving Funds, avoiding the significant cuts both the House and Senate proposed in their respective Interior Appropriations bills. While we should be happy to avoid these cuts, we should also celebrate the infusion of an additional $100 million into the Drinking Water SRF for communities experiencing drinking water emergencies, AND the capitalization of the WIFIA program. The $20 million appropriated for the WIFIA program, OMB estimates, will translate into $1.2 billion in new water infrastructure projects.

Both WIIN and the CR have significant benefits to the water infrastructure and clean water community, but are hopefully just the beginning. We at the Clean Water Council, hope President-elect Trump makes good on his promise to prioritize infrastructure in his new administration and will work to ensure water is a crucial component to his plan.

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Opposition Mounts against WOTUS

As President-Elect Trump vows to curb and eliminate harmful regulations on businesses, the EPA’s WOTUS rule faces mounting, and warranted, opposition.

NUCA, as a part of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, has filed comments opposing the rule with the EPA and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to have the rule changed substantially or withdrawn entirely.

The Association of Clean Water Administrators leads a coalition of groups that recently also filed an amicus brief with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals arguing the rule infringes on states authority; joining the chorus of opponents that argue the new rule is far beyond the intended scope of the Clean Water Act and would create significant and confusing additional regulations.

Opponents of the law filed their briefs in early November. The government has until Jan. 18 to respond.

The host of opposition, from a broad coalitions of industries and interests, will hopefully encourage President-Elect Trump to take a look at the rule, and ask his appointees to the EPA, who have not yet been chosen, to reverse course on the WOTUS rule

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Strong Rhetoric for Infrastructure Ahead of New Congress/Administration

In the aftermath of the election last week, our lawmakers, new and old, are saying things we in the infrastructure community have been waiting for; infrastructure will be a priority. We know that infrastructure is vitally important to our country, and we know the near dire status of the infrastructure that has been out-of-sight and out-of-mind for far too long. We know that investing in infrastructure is investing in America’s future, but we need our message to be heard far and wide.

That’s why CWC is glad to hear President-Elect Trump pledge to rebuild America. In his victory speech, the President-Elect said, “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reiterated the House’s intention to vote to begin a conference negotiation with the Senate over the Water Resources Development Act. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe said he remains “optimistic there will be a deal.”

The talk isn’t just from lawmakers at the top. “I think we might be able to get more common ground than people anticipate. I certainly hope so because our country needs it more than ever,” said Representative-elect Charlie Crist.

CWC will remain committed to pushing WRDA to become law before the 114th Congress ends, and will begin the new year with greater momentum for infrastructure than any other time in recent history.

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WOTUS Challenge to Begin in 6th Circuit

On Tuesday November 4th, lawyers for state and industry challengers of the Obama Administration’s Waters Of The U.S. (WOTUS) rule will submit their opening briefs to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Two separate environmentalist groups will also submit opening briefs.

The rules challengers will be without a key memos from the Army Corps of Engineers. Leaked memos from an Army Corps. general in protest that his agency was cut out of the EPA’s rule making processed warned the rule is riddled with ‘contradictions’ and ‘fatally’ flawed have been bared from the lawsuit. The three-judge panel disallowed the documents by deeming them deliberative process materials, fearing allowing them would deter agency officials from speaking openly about the rule making process.

According to Politico, these memo’s revealed last summer by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee show an intense disagreement between on-the-ground experts at the Army Corps and the political appointee overseeing the agency and the EPA.

“The rule’s contradictions with legal principles generates multiple legal and technical consequences that, in the view of the Corps, would be fatal to the rule in its current form,” Maj. Gen. John Peabody, then the corps’ second-in-command, wrote in a highly unusual April 2015 memo to Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

Regardless of the court’s refusal to allow these memo’s, there is now no doubt that the WOTUS rule is deeply flawed, as the CWC and many other groups have been saying since it began the regulatory process at EPA. These memos also show a stark divide between political and non-political opinions, calling into question the merits and motivations behind the rule.

At CWC, we oppose the WOTUS rule, which will do more harm than good. The rule will vastly expand the definition of ‘wetlands’ under the Clean Water Act, which will make it much more bureaucratic, costly, and time consuming for the construction of desperately needed water infrastructure projects. In many cases, without these water infrastructure projects, the environmental repercussions will continue to mount, calling into questions the motives of those in favor of this rule. In other words, proponents of this rule argue it will help the environment, but if construction and wetland redevelopment projects are stymied by bureaucracy resulting from this rule, the environment will suffer worse than without the rule.

 

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Clinton, Trump call for Greater Infrastructure Investment

America’s infrastructure has been deteriorating for decades. Estimates for the financial resources needed to repair, replace, and bring our infrastructure up to code rage from $2 -$5 trillion dollars.

Individual states face billions in clean water and drinking water infrastructure rehabilitation costs. You can find EPA’s estimates for state needs on the Clean Water Council website. Even if state lawmakers have the appetite to invest in infrastructure, which many statehouses are finding to be the case, state budgets and limited resources don’t exist for the investment required.

But hopefully, that’s all changing. Both Presidential candidates have released plans to invest in infrastructure. Former Secretary Clinton’s plan would infuse $275 billion over five-years into rebuilding America’s infrastructure paid for through reforms to the business tax code. Clinton’s plan has been public for months. This passed weekend, Donald Trump released his plan. Trump calls for  $1 trillion over ten years in new infrastructure spending through Public Private Partnerships (P3s) and private investment tax incentives.

Both candidates pledge infrastructure will be a part of their first 100 days agenda, which has historically marked a period of deference to a new President.

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Flint Funding: Sticking Point for Budget/WRDA

Yesterday, the Senate blocked a procedural motion to bring up a bill that would have continued to fund the government and extend current budget numbers until December. Protesting the lack of emergency funding for Flint, Michigan, but providing emergency funds to Louisiana, the measure failed 45-55. Senate Republicans are arguing that the funding is more appropriate for water infrastructure legislation (WRDA) currently moving through Congress. The Senate passed WRDA bill (S. 2848) included $220 million for Flint and other communities struggling with water infrastructure emergencies.

In the House, GOP leadership is struggling to figure out how to move forward with it’s version of WRDA (H.R. 5303) which does not included funding for Flint. The House has been working through amendments, but it remains unclear whether democrats will push through an amendment to send aid to Michigan.

In any event, the House must pass WRDA and a budgetary measure to fund the government before it adjourns to hit the campaign trail. The latter must also gain 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a government shutdown.

We, at the CWC, don’t believe funding America’s infrastructure should be a bargaining chip. Congress must pass legislation to fund the government, and it should also weigh the significant public health, national security, and economic stimulation benefits of investing in water infrastructure. The budget, and WRDA, should both be passed as soon as possible.

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