As far back as 2008, congressmen have been trying to get HR 1189: Clean Water Affordability Act of 2011 out of committee and into law. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in order to “assist municipalities that would experience a significant hardship raising the revenue necessary to finance projects and activities for the construction of wastewater works” (http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h112-1189).
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act “authorized the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, in cooperation with other Federal, state, and local entities, to prepare comprehensive programs for eliminating or reducing the pollution of interstate waters and tributaries and improving the sanitary condition of surface and underground waters.” Although the Act has been modified many times, either to “authorize additional water quality programs, standards, and procedures” or to create funding for necessary projects and improvements, for many communities the changes are too costly to implement and the fines for noncompliance are financial devastating. The Clean Water Affordability Act is aimed at reducing or mitigating this financial hardship.
The legislation has stalled year after year without ever actually making it to a congressional vote. In 2008 and 2009, Ohio Democratic US Senator Sherrod Brown introduced the measure (co-sponsored by former Senator George Voinovich), but failed to push the measure out of committee. In 2010 and 2011, Ohio Republican US Representative Robert Latta reintroduced the bill, only to see it stalled yet again. This week, Senator Brown reintroduced the bill, hoping that perhaps the “common sense” legislation can overcome partisan politics and deliver aid to communities unable to meet the EPA’s regulations and thus vulnerable to EPA fines and penalties.
In communities all around Ohio, this legislation would be a godsend. As the local Ironton Tribune reports, “Ultimately this can help improve the quality of life in communities across Ohio.” Some anticipated benefits include relief for citizens struggling to pay CSO fees, a larger window of time for cities to incorporate necessary upgrades, and funding for future projects. And for cities like Cincinnati, which faces a sewer renovation with a price tag in the billions, the grants included in the bill (almost $2 billion in federal funding) would go a long way towards easing the financial burden imposed by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (http://www.wvxu.org/news/wvxunews_article.asp?ID=9780).
Some highlights of the bill include:
* $1.8 billion for five years of grant program funding for infrastructure upgrades in financially distressed communities
* a 75–25 cost share for the planning design and construction of treatment works to control combined sanitary sewer overflows
* a requirement that the EPA tailor mandates so that they meet the financial needs of individual communities
* an extension of loan repayments from 20 to 30 years
So what do you think? Wastewater and drinking water often operate in to parallel spheres, so what—if any—impact could legislation like the Clean Water Affordability Act have on water efficiency and resource management? At a time when all infrastructure funding is threatened, do you think this bill has a chance to succeed—or will partisan politics and a gun-shy congress kill it yet again? And if this bill fails to find secure footing, what does that say about the future of all infrastructure funding at the federal level?