Member Pipeline - Clean Water Current - March 9, 2007
March 9, 2007
House Approves Key NACWA-Supported Funding Bills
Administration Voices Potential Veto of SRF Bill Citing Full-Cost Pricing, Privatization
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved two NACWA-supported clean water infrastructure funding bills. Today, the House approved the Clean Water Infrastructure Financing Act (H.R. 720), which provides $14 billion to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) over four years by a vote of 303 - 108 with debate largely focused on the representatives’ positions on the issue of the bill’s inclusion of Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wage provisions. The bill also calls for an important Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on revenue sources for a clean water trust fund to be completed by January 1, 2008. On Wednesday, the House also approved the Water Quality Investment Act (H.R. 569) by a vote of 367-58, which provides an amended level of $1.7 billion in funding for sewer overflow control projects over five years.
NACWA has been actively supporting these bills throughout the year, beginning with congressional testimony by Association member and Executive Director of the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth, Minn., Kurt Soderberg in January. NACWA members have been consistently sending letters to their representatives on behalf of both bills and, this week, NACWA sent letters of support to each representative’s office and issued press releases (http://www.nacwa.org/advocacy/releases/030807.cfm) in support of both bills. Additionally NACWA helped organize the Water Infrastructure Network’s (WIN) successful press event on Capitol Hill this morning in advance of H.R. 720’s floor vote. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, provided remarks emphasizing the need for the Senate to move quickly with funding legislation similar to H.R. 720. NACWA also helped organize and design a WIN advertisement (http://www.nacwa.org/private/leg_outreach.cfm) in the March 2 edition of Congress’s newspaper, Roll Call, calling on all representatives to support the two bills.
Of equal significance to the bills’ passage through the House, however, is the Bush administration’s extremely troubling opposition to these bills and its focus on full-cost pricing and private activity bonds. In its March 8 Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on H.R. 720, the document stated unequivocally that:
The Administration strongly opposes [the bill], which authorizes excessive Federal funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF). For the reasons described below, if H.R. 720 were presented to the President in its current form his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill. . . . This excessive authorization will distort market signals by discouraging utilities and their consumers from moving toward full cost pricing, as they have elsewhere. Instead, this bill may encourage municipalities to delay undertaking needed infrastructure projects to wait for Federal subsidies, potentially diminishing reliability and increasing the eventual costs to the public [emphasis from original document]. (The Statement of Administration Policy is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/legislative/sap/110-1/hr720sap-h.pdf.)
The SAPs on both H.R. 569 and H.R.720 also exemplify the administration’s increasingly active and troubling pro-privatization stance, noting that:
To provide additional opportunities to communities for financing needed wastewater infrastructure, Congress should enact the Administration’s Water Enterprise Bond proposal, which would provide an exception to the unified annual State volume cap on tax-exempt qualified private activity bonds for wastewater and drinking water projects. To ensure the long-term financial health and solvency of these drinking water and wastewater systems, communities using these bonds must have demonstrated a process that will move toward full-cost pricing for services within five years of issuing the Private Activity Bonds. Consequently, this proposal will attract more private capital to meet the infrastructure needs of these sectors, help water and wastewater systems become self-financing, and minimize the need for future subsidies. (Full text is available on NACWA’s website at http://www.nacwa.org/private/leg_outreach.cfm.)
The administration’s position, in NACWA’s estimation, is once again an effort to open the door to privatization, under the false view that private entities are better suited than public agencies to keep the Nation’s waters clean and safe and the public health of its citizens protected. As we prepare to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and the unprecedented water quality gains made by public agencies over the past three and a half decades, it is vital that NACWA voice its opposition to the administration’s position against a federal re-commitment to funding clean water.
For these reasons, NACWA urges all Association members to attend the upcoming NACWA/Water Environment Federation (WEF) Clean Water Policy Forum, May 6-9 2007, in Washington, D.C. Administration officials will be in attendance and members will have an unparalleled opportunity to urge the Administration not only to support H.R. 569 and H.R. 720 but, of critical importance, to abandon its unacceptable pro-privatization stance. Agenda and registration information is available now on NACWA’s website (http://www.nacwa.org/meetings/07may/).
NACWA will be providing more detailed information on the legislation and the Administration’s views in upcoming Action Alerts and Updates.
NACWA Efforts Lead to Senate Letter Opposing Proposed Permit Fee Rule
Nine members of the U.S. Senate sent a bipartisan, strongly-worded letter March 5 to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, expressing opposition to the EPA’s proposed permit fee rule. The letter is a result of meeting on Capitol Hill that NACWA attended two weeks ago with other members of the Coalition Against Permitting Unfunded Mandates (CAPUM) to express disapproval with the permit fee proposal, which seeks to encourage states to fully fund the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program through user fees. The bipartisan letter was signed by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL), James Inhofe (R-OK), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John Warner (R-VA), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Ken Salazar (D-CO), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). A copy of the letter is available on NACWA’s Regulatory Correspondence & Outreach site (http://www.nacwa.org/private/reg_outreach.cfm). In the letter, the Senators “question EPA’s authority to execute the proposed change” without congressional approval and state that “it is not appropriate to ask the states to fully fund a federally-mandated program through a single ‘acceptable’ mechanism – user fees.” The senators go on to request that EPA reconsider its work on the proposed rule and submit any future Clean Water Act (CWA) funding changes to Congress for review and consideration. NACWA will report developments on this proposal to the membership.
EPA Circulates Memo Based on NACWA Document in Support of Green Infrastructure
EPA distributed a March 5 memo (http://www.nacwa.org/private/reg_outreach.cfm) endorsing green infrastructure as a “cost effective and environmentally preferable approach” for reducing stormwater and excess flows that enter combined or separate sewer system. The memo from EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles states that EPA is “in a pivotal position to exert leadership in the consistent and reliable implementation of green infrastructure approaches,” and encourages efforts by States and EPA regions to increase the development of green infrastructure projects. Much of the memo mirrors the Green Infrastructure Statement of Support (http://www.nacwa.org/getfile.cfm?fn=2006-12-18green.pdf) that NACWA and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) jointly authored, and which the NACWA Board of Directors approved in late January. NACWA and NRDC will send a letter to EPA next week responding to the memo along with the list of nine current signatory organizations to the Statement of Support to date. In addition, NACWA will attend an April 16 meeting convened by EPA in Washington, D.C., for the signatory organizations to discuss how to further advance the use of green infrastructure.