Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on Sustainable Wastewater Infrastructure
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) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Sustainable Wastewater Infrastructure: Measures to Promote Resiliency and Climate Adaptation and Mitigation.” Videos of opening statements from Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano are here and here. More information on the hearing can be found here.
Tomorrow is Earth Day, so it is fitting we are here to discuss innovative ways to address the resiliency and sustainability of our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.
Today, we will continue to discuss the importance of robust investment in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure, which, like so much of our nation’s infrastructure, is in serious need of modernization. Specifically, today’s hearing is an opportunity to explore in more depth some of the issues raised at our February hearing on the nation’s clean water needs.
At that hearing, we underscored the consequences to everyday Americans from Congress’s failure to invest in our water-related infrastructure systems.
As already noted, according to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Needs Survey, states and communities have documented wastewater infrastructure needs of over $270 billion over the next 20 years—which means that local communities have already identified over $14 billion in specific wastewater infrastructure projects that need to be carried out every year for the next 20 years.
Yet, the last annual federal appropriation for the Clean Water SRF program was a fraction of that—about $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2021.
We simply are not meeting our nation’s wastewater infrastructure needs when we provide just a little more than 10 percent of the federal funds necessary to close the identified infrastructure gap.
We also learned at our Subcommittee hearing in February that local communities simply cannot address their wastewater infrastructure challenges on their own.
Too many communities, especially those that are small, rural, and economically disadvantaged, simply do not have the revenues and ratepayers to address these needs alone.
So, if we remain committed to cleaning up our nation’s rivers, lakes, and streams, and if we remain committed to protecting human health and the environment, the only way we can get there is through renewing a robust federal commitment to addressing our wastewater infrastructure needs.
Yet, in the same way we are trying to transform and modernize our nation’s highway system and move it out of the Eisenhower era, we have an equal opportunity to transform the way we invest in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure network.
Both EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy have shown that approximately 3 to 4 percent of the nation’s energy use is consumed by drinking and wastewater treatment facilities. This energy use is equivalent to 56 billion kilowatts annually—costing roughly $4 billion—and results in annual emissions of more than 45 million tons of greenhouse gasses. That’s the equivalent of about 10 million cars driven for a year.
Similarly, the Department of Energy estimates that wastewater contains roughly five times more energy than is needed for its treatment in terms of untapped thermal energy. Many utilities, including some of the witnesses here today, have demonstrated the potential to reclaim this untapped energy and reduce their overall energy costs as well as releases of greenhouse gasses.
EPA has also estimated that, by incorporating energy efficiency practices into water and wastewater utilities, municipalities can save between 15 to 40 percent on their operating costs, saving thousands of dollars and potentially paying for energy efficiency upgrades solely through cost savings in a matter of months to a few years.
Finally, a growing concern for many utilities is the resiliency of water and wastewater utilities to extreme weather events and the challenges posed by climate change. In 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) completed a study of the resiliency of water and wastewater utilities to climate change and recommended that, among other things, Congress should consider requiring that climate resilience be considered in the planning for federally funded water infrastructure projects.
As this committee considers legislation to reinvest in our nation’s infrastructure, including our wastewater infrastructure, it is critical that these investments maximize the sustainability of our infrastructure.
It is foolish to keep pouring taxpayer dollars into outdated, inefficient infrastructure. Instead, we need to meet the climate challenge head-on by reducing emissions and building more resilient infrastructure.
We have an administration that wants to do just that—and put people to work at the same time—by enacting a large infrastructure package. In his American Jobs Plan, President Biden lays out an ambitious plan that create jobs and prioritizes investment in water and wastewater infrastructure.
Given the opportunity, we should not only direct investment toward getting our infrastructure into a state of good repair, but we should also focus on preparing our infrastructure for the next generation of challenges.
Thank you, Madam Chair, for holding today’s hearing. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.
Today, we continue to discuss the need to renew the Federal commitment to fund our clean water infrastructure challenges.
In our first subcommittee hearing of this Congress, we discussed legislative proposals to close the gap between local wastewater and stormwater needs and current levels of federal investment, as well as to ensure these critical investments are sufficient to help these communities address local water quality challenges.
The first of these proposals, approved by this committee last Congress, and ultimate approved by the House in H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, would have provided a robust funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, but ultimately stalled in the Senate.
This Congress, I joined with Chairman DeFazio, and Congressman Fitzpatrick, in introducing H.R. 1915, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021—a proposal that received unanimous support from the witnesses at our February hearing on “Building Back Better.”
The robust funding levels in this bipartisan proposal are critical to addressing the $270 billion backlog over the next 20 years according U.S. EPA in wastewater and stormwater upgrades identified by the states and our communities.
Similarly, in his American Jobs Plan, President Biden further stressed the importance of water and wastewater investment—not only for the number of jobs that it will create, but also for how these investments in safe, efficient, and sustainable water infrastructure are critical to the health and well-being of everyday Americans.
Let’s be clear—no one who has ever had a sewer backup in their community or home; or who has gotten sick from swimming at a contaminated river, lake, or beach; or who has questioned the safety or reliability of the water coming out of their faucet would ever say that water infrastructure is not infrastructure.
Tomorrow marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day.
In recognition of this anniversary, it is fitting that we continue to focus on meeting our clean water infrastructure needs, but also highlight how the resilient and sustainable approaches we utilize to make this investment can both meet the goals of the Clean Water Act, but do so in a way that increases the overall protection of human health and the health of our environment.
At this moment, we are witnessing generational changes in how wastewater utilities are meeting the wastewater challenges facing our nation.
As our witnesses today will testify, many communities are leading the way in increasing the resiliency and sustainability of their wastewater utilities.
From converting wastes to energy to reducing greenhouse gas emissions of water utilities, to investing in natural and nature-based, green infrastructure alternatives to relieve pressure on existing sewer systems, to recapturing and reusing wastewater and stormwater for both the non-potable and drinking water needs of local communities, many utilities are leading by example on how to create the so-called “utility of the future.”
In fact, some communities have used the need to upgrade their wastewater infrastructure as an opportunity to reinvent themselves—using wastewater and stormwater practices to increase the livability of cities and suburbs while also addressing local water challenges.
Today’s hearing is an opportunity to reveal and explore some of these innovative and cost-effective alternatives to traditional wastewater infrastructure solutions. We must research and invest in these technologies and share the information on development and benefits amongst water agencies, so that we are not reinventing the wheel.
Today’s hearing also presents us with the opportunity to discuss some of the challenges that are preventing wider awareness or utilization of these sustainable alternatives to address local water quality needs, especially in rural, tribal, and economically disadvantaged communities.
As I mentioned earlier, we all know that the documented wastewater and stormwater needs facing our nation are great and require a renewed and robust federal commitment to help address them.
However, the country’s urgent wastewater infrastructure needs also present a major opportunity to upgrade, modernize, and increase the sustainability of the nation’s water related infrastructure.
That is our challenge—how to both increase federal investment in our wastewater infrastructure, and to make sure that these investments maximize the resiliency and sustainability of our wastewater utilities?
I look forward to continuing that discussion here this morning.
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