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the rule with the EPA and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to have the rule changed substantially or withdrawn entirely.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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Senate Passes WRDA: Opportunities Abound

On September 15th, the Senate passed its version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), legislation aimed at improving America’s water infrastructure. The legislation (S. 2848) passed the Senate by a vote of 94-3 with the lone ‘no’ votes coming from Senators Flake (AZ), Lee (UT), and Sasse (NE). Apparently these Senators feel the water infrastructure in their state is sufficient despite the estimated $13.1 billion, $6.6 billion, and $4.8 billion each of their respective states need to bring their clean water and drinking water infrastructure up to current standards. Perhaps they know something no one else seems to know: where their states can find that kind of money in their annual budgets.

Traditionally, WRDA has been directed at water navigation projects like ports, levees, and waterways projects, but the Senate’s version in 2016 broadens the scope of WRDA to include clean water, drinking water, sewer, and wastewater projects that need significant investment. This is a change the Clean Water Council fully supports.

Many of the Senate version’s highlights will substantially benefit America’s water infrastructure. The major investments include:

  • $70 million capitalization of WIFIA- OMB says this will be leveraged into $4.2 billion in water infrastructure loans.
  • $300 million for lead-pipe replacement.
  • $1.4 billion for small and disadvantaged communities to build water and wastewater services compliant with the Drinking Water Act.
  • $100 million for drinking water infrastructure emergencies.
  • The creation of a Water Infrastructure Trust Fund capitalized by a voluntary labeling on bottling. This is Rep. Blumenauer’s bill that NUCA has regularly supported and will create a new funding source for water infrastructure projects.
  • Authorizes 25 Army Corps. of Engineers water infrastructure projects in 17 states.

These are significant achievements and CWC and our advocacy partners should be proud, but understand that the fight has not yet been won. The House must still act.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman said last week that he hopes to bring the House’s version (H.R. 5303) to the floor this week (Sept. 19-23). The House version authorizes 28 Army Corps. projects but does little more.

Make no mistake, we encourage the House to act to pass WRDA, but the CWC believes the House version misses an opportunity to create significant economic stimulation and job creation through water infrastructure investment. The significant reforms, investment, and program authorizations included in the Senate version invests in America’s health, safety, transportation, and, ultimately, future by prioritizing a broad spectrum on water infrastructure projects. CWC will be supporting and advocating in favor of S. 2848 and urge our partners to do the same.

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Private Sector Ideas to Promote America’s Infrastructure

Infrastructure is not just a government problem. Yes, local, state, and federal governments often plan, finance, and own infrastructure as a public good, but when infrastructures fail, or when short-term focus balloon’s the cost of infrastructure projects, we all pay the price.

According to a May 2016 study conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center entitled, “Bridging the Gap: A New Model to Modernize U.S. Infrastructure,” both public and private interests play a role in improving America’s infrastructure. According to the report, America’s infrastructure will require trillions of dollars in upgrades, modernization, and expansion to stay in compliance with the Clean Water Act. This figure is certainly more than local communities can afford, let alone the federal government, which provides ample opportunity for collaboration between public and private entities to finance the growing need for improvements. Which is why the reports provides recommendations to attract $250 billion in private capital over 5 years for funding public infrastructure projects through private revenue streams.

However, there are three main barriers standing in the way of private investment for infrastructure projects. First, public agencies aren’t conducting the appropriate analyses needed to facilitate a project pipeline ready for investors. Second, a lack of public consensus on the long-term priorities of our country creates political risk that deters investment. Third, America’s permitting structure hinders progress due to its bureaucratic and complex nature that often leads to delays, expense overruns, and difficulty for investors to see a return.

To combat these barriers, The Bipartisan Policy Center, proposes seven recommendation to improve infrastructure. First, emphasis must be placed on outreach, engagement, and education of every project. This means beginning project development with a statement of public value, and creating transparency for the engagement and education of stakeholders throughout project development. Second, there must be established a broad project enabling framework that enables public-private partnerships for all types of projects and at all levels of government and a funding mechanism to assist in the up-front costs associated with setting up public-private partnerships. Third, all public assets must be inventoried for physical and economic condition in order to truly understand infrastructure needs.  Forth, project delivery and financing should have access to the full range of public, shared, or private options, as dictated by the nature and benefits of the project. Fifth, simplify project development and permitting by delineating agency review and permitting responsibilities and timelines. Sixth, expand revenue options for investors and maximize the use of emerging funding sources that directly engage the private sector. Lastly, increase the variety and strength of financial tools available for infrastructure projects.

These changes, in some cases require legislative or legal action, but the benefits of investing in infrastructure, far outweigh the difficulties. Water infrastructure projects, specifically, default on financing in less than 1% of projects making it among the safest investments. Additionally, the return on investment in water infrastructure is nearly three times the cost in terms of economic development surrounding the project or after completion. These are real benefits, whereas delaying action on necessary projects only create more problems and costs.

The solution provided by the Bipartisan Policy Center is focused on teamwork between the government and private sector and long-term focus. We at the CWC applaud the Bipartisan Policy Center on their report and support many of their recommendations.

http://cdn.bipartisanpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/BPC-New-Infrastructure-Model.pdf

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Is Bottled Water a Sustainable Fix?

A Bloomberg article from August 2, 2016 entitled   “Bottled Water to Outsell Soda for the First Time, with Nod to Flint” illustrates growing public skepticism about the health and safety of what comes out of their taps in the wake of recent calamitous water infrastructure failures. In the wake of recent water crises in Flint, Michigan, Americans have been forced, many for the first time, to consider the safety of the drinking water in their homes. Much of our country’s water infrastructure is over 100 years old, and in serious need of repair and replacement to remain safe and reliable. Should these infrastructure systems fail at an increased rate, heavily populated areas will be hit the hardest, as population density and the cost to repair will considerably impact citizens.  The article states that, “At least $384 billion of improvements are needed to maintain and replace essential parts of the country’s water infrastructure through 2030, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.” This is, quite simply, money America doesn’t have to spend without significant re-prioritization.

Bottled water might seem the best immediate solution to crises like Flint, Michigan, where clean water is not available from the tap. Plenty of celebrity campaigns strive to help with the crisis by donating clean water. “Sean Combs and Mark Wahlberg‘s bottled water company pledged to give 1 million bottles. This includes help from hip hop artists Wiz Khalifa and Detroit-native Eminem,” claims Time Magazine. These donations were considered among the largest public donations to aid the victims of infrastructure failures  in a city in desperate need of drinkable water.

But is bottled water the best solution? Bloomberg reports significant inefficiencies in the production of bottled water. It takes 3 times the volume of a bottle to manufacture a single  bottle.  When you consider the manufacturers still rely on the same public water infrastructure the rest of us use,  can bottled water be considered a sustainable solution?

Bottled water is mostly sold by the four largest bottled water companies: Nestle Waters, Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group. According to Bloomberg, “PepsiCo and Dr Pepper’s water business grew by double digits in the first quarter of 2016, while PepsiCo’s carbonated soft-drink volume declined 2 percent.” Nestle is North America’s, the largest bottled-water manufacturer, and its Pure Life brand is “filtered municipal water“ Bloomberg reports.

This bottled water comes at a cost that is in stark contrast to a vision of American water prosperity–every person should be able to turn on their sink and fill up a glass of clean fresh water regardless of their zip code or let their pets drink from the hose outside. Bottled water is “2,000 times more expensive than tap on average,” according to Peter Gleick, president emeritus and chief scientist at the Pacific Institute.

While there should always be a market for bottled water, replacing tap water with bottled water is inefficient, expensive, more detrimental to our country. Bottled water is a short term bridge without a true solution as even the water bottling companies rely on the same water infrastructure that leads to our homes. If investment isn’t made in our infrastructure, even the water bottling companies will struggle to produce bottles.

The solution is, as CWC has advocated, robust investment in water infrastructure to repair, replace, and expand current infrastructure systems.

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Water Infrastructure—a Platform Both Parties Can Agree On

With the 2016 Presidential general election quickly approaching, both major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have finalized the policy platforms for their campaigns.  Although neither party truly took advantage of the opportunity to discuss and promote America’s vital infrastructure, both parties include some discussion about their view of the future of America’s water infrastructure. Regardless of the winner in November, water infrastructure will be an important issue in America’s near future.  We at the Clear Water Council hope both parties recognize the seriousness and significance of investing in American infrastructure.

For the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton is proposing revitalizing water infrastructure through increased federal investment, in addition to promising to make America’s water infrastructure more energy efficient and sustainable.

According to Business Insider, “Clinton said she would increase federal spending on infrastructure projects by $275 billion in the five years after her possible inauguration.”

To augment her clean water infrastructure plan, Clinton has also proposed continued upkeep to America’s dams and levees. “Our 84,000 dams and roughly 100,000 miles of levees serve to protect us from floods, facilitate the movement of goods, generate electricity, and more,” states the Democratic National Committee (DNC) platform. The DNC platform touches on disparities existing between the upkeep of these key pieces of infrastructure and their uncontestable importance to clean water and energy in America. We will continue to benefit from dam systems which irrigate our farms, hold water supplies in their reservoirs , and protect us from major storms and flooding. The Democratic National Committee has also proposed creating a national Infrastructure Bank to leverage more investment.

In contrast with the DNC’s platform proposing increased water infrastructure spending on a federal level, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s plan for spending increases in American water infrastructure aim to utilize private funding.

According to Business Insider, “even after his initial campaign launch, [Trump] has committed to …large [infrastructure] improvements throughout his campaign.” The RNC platform is in favor of funding clean water projects, and insists that funding will come from the private sector. They plan to do this by eliminating regulatory hurdles.

Under the “Building 21st century infrastructure” section of the Republic National Committee’s platform, more is proposed about reforming water infrastructure. The platform aims to revitalize 21st century energy and water systems, modernize schools, and continue to expand high speed broadband networks. The RNC platform also claims that “[the GOP] will protect public health and safety by modernizing drinking and wastewater systems,” but is sparse on specifics.

The GOP website also highlights a current and persisting water crisis in America. The party claims that most Americans take for granted the seemingly endless availability of clean water in our country. GOP.com says that, “engineering surveys report crumbling drinking water systems, aging dams, and overwhelmed wastewater infrastructure.” A revitalization of American water infrastructure could bring jobs, prosperity, and above all clean water to all Americans.

Although Democrats and Republicans may hold two separate agendas when it comes to campaigning, both can agree that the condition of America’s pipes, water treatment plants, and dams is a pressing matter of national concern and must be addressed this election year.

Read the full platforms for yourself here:

DNC

RNC

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Report Reinforces Needs and Benefits of Water Infrastructure

In April, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and WateReuse published the results of a study aimed at quantifying the economic impacts of increased federal investment in the State Revolving Funds (SRFs). The study, The Economic, Job Creation, and Federal Tax Revenue Benefits of Increased Funding for the State Revolving Fund Programs, shows how increased investment would generate significant tax revenues, high paying jobs, and higher economic output.

The State Revolving Fund (SRF) Programs provide an affordable way to finance water and wastewater projects. Congress must annually appropriate funds for the Drinking Water SRF (DWSRF) and Clean Water SRF (CWSRF) programs through the EPA’s annual appropriation bill.  The study points out that appropriations for the SRF programs has dropped substantially from 2010 to 2016.

The study aims to show what the economic output would be if appropriators were to increase SRF appropriations, which the CWC has supported and advocated. The study assumes the SRF appropriations will be increased to $4.7 billion in 2017 (nearly doubling the appropriation level, and then incrementally increased over the next five years to $12 billion. These are unrealistic expectations, but illustrating the benefits of such an investment is paramount.

Specifically, the study found for every federal SRF dollar spent, 21.4% is returned to the federal government in the form of taxes, allowing greater investment. According to the study, the proposed $34.7 billion federal allocation will leverage an additional $116.2 billion in state spending ($151 billion total) in SRF project funding. Additionally, the increased SRF funding would also create half a million new jobs with an annual salary of  $60,000 a year. Finally, the increased appropriations will generate $102.7 billion in total economic output across industries, strengthening our economy.

These results mirror what we already know and have reported here continually. Investing in water infrastructure is good for everyone and our economy.

To download the 8-page study, The Economic, Job Creation, and Federal Tax Revenue Benefits of Increased Funding for the State Revolving Funds Programs

 

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