Given President Obama’s rhetoric on the Flint, Michigan water crisis, we at CWC are bitterly disappointed by the details of his administration’s proposed 2017 budget, released last week, which cuts the EPA’s water infrastructure funding by roughly a quarter billion dollars.
The EPA’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) provides loans to improve state and local water quality and is the primary source of federal funding for water infrastructure improvements. The 2017 budget does propose to increase by $158 million the Drinking Water SRF, which is good news. That money would help cities like Flint repair and replace old and crumbling water infrastructure. The bad news is that the budget also proposes a nearly $400 million cut to the Clean Water SRF. Those funds are used to build water treatment facilities, storm water infrastructure, and other projects that make water sources (such as the Flint River, for example) cleaner overall – by reducing urban runoff pollution, improving wastewater treatment, and paying for research on how the chemicals in our water supply affect human health.
Particularly in light of the devastating health crisis unfolding in Flint, the proposed cuts have provoked criticism from many: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he was “grossly disappointed” by the proposal, while Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, accused Obama of prioritizing climate change over water. Mae Wu, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, equated the proposed budget with “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” “Cutting funds that help keep pollution out of our water,” she recently wrote “and moving the money to remove pollution once it’s already in our drinking water is no solution at all. At best it is a short-term band-aid approach to addressing the chronic levels of underinvestment in our water infrastructure by local, state, and federal government.”
We have reported extensively here on the gross underfunding of our nation’s water infrastructure, and how federal water infrastructure spending has been stagnant in recent years despite the increasingly acute need of local communities like Flint for federal help in this area. The 2017 budget is yet another example of this disparity, and we at CWC will be lobbying hard to redress this imbalance.