Greater Awareness: JPMorgan Chase & Co. Weighs in on Infrastructure.

On March 24, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Head of Corporate Responsibility, Peter Scher, published a post about the need to look beyond the ‘image of trains, highways, bridges, airports and ports’ in respect to the needs of America’s infrastructure. While improvements to our transportation systems are also drastically needed, addressing the less prominent, or perhaps less visible elements of our infrastructure, like water, wastewater, electric, and connectivity infrastructure, would have a broader impact on our overall economy by creating greater opportunity for business creation and growth.

Too often, Scher argues, the lack of infrastructure disproportionately affects low-income areas that could, in theory, benefit the greatest from infrastructure investment that results in economic stimulation.

What Scher acknowledges that we at the Clean Water Council has advocated, is the need for collaborative efforts between the business, non-profit, and local government communities to develop long-term infrastructure solutions. Comprehensive infrastructure projects are a necessary consideration of these collaborations and often provide cost-savings and construction streamlining. If an infrastructure project calls for resurfacing a local highway that runs over a wastewater network in distress, the government will end up paying to have the road resurfaced twice, once as a part of the initial project, and a second time after the wastewater system is replaced or repaired. If the wastewater system fails, cleanup and emergency response costs are added to the total bill. If the community had collaborated and developed a comprehensive, long-term plan to address the infrastructure needs, the initial project could have included repairing or replacing the underground infrastructure before repaving the road and saved significantly on the total cost of the project, freeing up capital for other infrastructure or public works projects.

The Clean Water Council strongly supports a comprehensive infrastructure investment approach that incorporates out-of-sight infrastructure to every infrastructure upgrade project. We fully support JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s willingness to be vocal about America’s infrastructure needs, and encourage their counterparts in the financial industry to join us in promoting underground infrastructure investment.

You can read Scher’s full article here.

 

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Trump Budget Good for SRFs; not great for Infrastructure

On March 16, President Trump revealed his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018.

Despite considerable cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the State Revolving Funds- which provide bloc grants to States for clean water and drinking water infrastructure- received a $4 million increase. This is somewhat of a surprise after news reports, which were reported here, indicated deep cuts to EPA’s budget. Those cuts came true to the tune of 31% or $2.5 billion from last year’s budget. The EPA’s cuts would reduce the EPA’s employment ranks by about 3,200 employees, and eliminate more than 50 programs including the Energy Star Program and the Clean Power Plan, which regulates airborne emissions at power plants.

The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) Water and Environmental Program, which provides loan, loan guarantees, and grants for drinking water, sanitary sewer, solid waste and storm drainage facility infrastructure upgrades in rural areas with a population of 10,000 or less, was eliminated within President Trump’s proposed budget. This amounts to nearly $500 million in water infrastructure financing for small rural communities that often do not have the financing capabilities to undertake needed water infrastructure upgrades, repairs or expansions.

Additionally, the Department of Transportation’s TIGER grants program was cut by nearly $500 million. Tiger grants finance road and transit projects, which do not directly impact water infrastructure, but do create cite development and utility relocation work that can be significant.

We at the Clean Water Council applaud the administration for recognizing the value of the SRF programs, but believe the RUS programs remain essential to rural communities. Our partners throughout the infrastructure industry rely on TIGER grants, and we believe a comprehensive infrastructure approach, one that includes water, transportation, energy, and navigation infrastructure, is the best approach to addressing America’s infrastructure woes.

As the annual budget and appropriations process moves forward, the Clean Water Council will continue to push for water infrastructure financing. We understand the President’s budget is only a proposal, but also know Congress has the ultimate responsibility of appropriating funds. CWC will be advocates of robust infrastructure financing as Congress begins crafting appropriations legislation.

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News Reports: Trump to Cut EPA Budget 25%

Various news agencies are reporting that President Trump’s Budget, which is scheduled to be released in mid March, will drastically cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget. If this happens, CleanWaterWeekly readers can expect to hear news of drastic cuts to the State Revolving Funds which provide low-cost financing to states for clean water and drinking water infrastructure projects.

Cutting the SRF’s is the wrong thing to do. Not only is America’s water infrastructure in great need of repair and replacement, but cutting the only dedicated funding source for water infrastructure, and one of the federal governments only well-managed programs, will only make matters worse.

As we have reported here several times, investing in water infrastructure is a safe and economic benefiting investment. Water infrastructure project default rates are less than 1%. Investing in water infrastructure creates jobs in the construction, service, and materials manufacturing industries, not to mention the quantifiable number of jobs that are supported by the access to safe, clean, reliable water infrastructure. Strengthening our water infrastructure is necessary for our public health, national security, and transportation.

We, at the Clean Water Council will be actively working to stop these devastating cuts to one of America’s most vital economic and job simulators; water infrastructure. Please keep watch in coming weeks for opportunities for you to get involved and express your displeasure with President Trump’s budget to your Representatives and Senators.

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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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