June 09, 2021

Chair DeFazio Statement During Markup of the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s committee markup to consider the H.R. 1915, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021. Video of his opening statement can be found here. More information on the markup can be found here, and additional information on the legislation can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

I strongly support the amendment in the nature of a substitute, which authorizes over $50 billion to address America’s crumbling wastewater infrastructure and water quality challenges.

When talking about the need for federal investment in our nation’s infrastructure, I often feel like I’m a broken record. But, we all have seen, firsthand, that our nation’s infrastructure is failing, outdated, and in critical need of investment. Our nation’s network of sewage and wastewater treatment systems is no different.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives America’s wastewater treatment infrastructure a grade of D+.

EPA and the states say that communities need close to $300 billion in investment over the next 20 years to bring their current systems into a good state of repair and help ensure water mains don’t explode and sewers back up.  And yet $300 billion does not account for the challenges facing all of our communities to make utilities more resilient to climate change, to extreme weather events, and to other natural and man-made disasters.

 Yet, as important as this federal assistance is to communities of all sizes, and especially to rural and small communities that might not otherwise be able to address their local water quality challenges, it is unfathomable that Congress has NEVER reauthorized the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program since its enactment in 1987.

This bill represents a renewal of the federal commitment to invest in our wastewater infrastructure and address local water quality challenges, and it’s long overdue. This amendment authorizes the largest investment in wastewater infrastructure since the advent of the federal Clean Water programs.

 H.R. 1915 authorizes a total of $40 billion over the next 5 years for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and directs states to distribute larger shares of this funding to cities and towns in the form of grants—increasing the affordability of this investment to economically-challenged communities, especially small and rural towns that have told us the difficulty they face in repaying loans.  

 This funding will go a long way toward getting our systems into a state of good repair, but we will still need to continue aggressive investments in our infrastructure if we want to ensure it is resilient to the impacts of climate change.

 Some of my colleagues may say that we are spending too much money in this bill. However, that thinking is what has contributed to our current situation. If we don’t invest heavily in our nation’s infrastructure now, the consequences will only multiply.

 This legislation should not be a partisan issue.  I have spoken to enough mayors and county commissioners—from both sides of the aisle—who repeatedly tell me that communities and ratepayers cannot afford to bear the entire financial burden of these crucial projects. In fact, I recently had a call with a group of rural county commissioners from Oregon—most of whom are Republican—who spoke of pressing need for investment in wastewater and drinking water infrastructure in their communities.

 Historically, the federal government was a better partner with states and cities in helping to directly finance the costs of upgrading our wastewater infrastructure. Yet, over the years, in order to reduce the amount of federal funding leaving Washington, D.C., decisions were made to put more of the burden on our communities—shifting from what used to be a 60 to 70 percent federal share to the roughly 5 percent contributed today. When I was a county commissioner the federal cost share for wastewater infrastructure was 75 percent.

 The condition of our nation’s water infrastructure today proves that this model is not working everywhere. H.R. 1915 responds by both increasing the portion of Clean Water SRF financing that can come in the form of grants or other loan subsidizations as well as reauthorizing several important Clean Water Act grant programs—such as the sewer overflow and stormwater grant authority and the alternative water source grant authority.

 These changes are intended to make federal clean water assistance more affordable to communities and ratepayers, in addition to addressing local water quality challenges. 

 In addition, the amendment in a nature of a substitute will codify several important policy changes to the Clean Water Act to increase the energy efficiency of our public utilities (including the promotion of innovative technologies to capture and reuse methane to generate electricity), to increase the resiliency of our utilities to climate change and extreme weather events, to direct investments and critical technical assistance toward rural and Tribal communities, and to promote the next generation of our public utility workforce.

 I want to thank Subcommittee Chairwoman Napolitano for her assistance in moving this critical legislation forward, and for her focus on reauthorization of the EPA grant authority for water recycling projects. The changes made in this bill, especially those that expand the eligibility for this program, are critically important for Western states which are currently facing historically dry conditions.

 I’d also like to thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick for joining as an original cosponsor on this bill. Over 60 bipartisan cosponsors have joined this effort to renew the federal commitment to clean water and wastewater infrastructure.

 I’d also like to recognize the more than 110 organizations who have endorsed the funding levels contained in H.R. 1915, and who support passage of this bipartisan legislation. When a bill can receive the endorsement of groups ranging from the Associated General Contractors of America, to the Clean Water for All Coalition, to the United Steelworkers union, to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—you know you must be on the right track.

 Last, I want to acknowledge the significant policy contributions in this amendment from some of our newest committee members, Carolyn Bourdeaux, Nikema Williams, Kai Kahele, Chris Pappas, and Antonio Delgado. Thanks to their hard work and creative ideas, this bill will reach more communities and address a wider range of the unique needs across the country.

 I strongly support H.R. 1915 as amended, and I urge your support. By supporting this bill we can support all of our communities working to ensure clean, safe, and reliable water services for their citizens.