STATEMENT OF SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
FEBRUARY 26, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would first like to commend you and Senators Graham, Crapo, and Smith for proposing legislation that looks to address our nation’s incredible unmet water infrastructure needs.
It is all too clear to this Senator that we are facing an environmental and public health crisis in this country when it comes to water infrastructure, and I am very pleased that this Committee has made it a priority to address this problem with the Water Investment Act and other needed measures.
Since coming to the Senate, I have made it a goal of mine to address the hundreds of billions of dollars of unmet wastewater and drinking water needs across the country as indicated in the EPA’s Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water needs surveys. Other independent groups, such as the Water Infrastructure Network have documented a $23 billion per year gap between infrastructure needs and current spending.
Over the last two years, I have held a number of meetings with officials from Ohio municipalities and sewer districts to discuss their wastewater infrastructure concerns. In addition, Senator Crapo was kind enough to conduct a field hearing as Chairman of the Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee in Columbus last April to discuss Ohio’s wastewater infrastructure needs.
Last year, I introduced the Clean Water Infrastructure Financing Act (S. 252) to reauthorize the highly successful, but undercapitalized, Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) program. S. 252, and its companion bill in the House, H.R. 668, have strong bipartisan support.
Congress created the Clean Water SRF program in 1987 to replace the construction grants program of the Clean Water Act. Under the construction grants program, the federal government paid up to 75 percent of the cost of a wastewater infrastructure project. Under this program, our country made a substantial amount of progress to clean our water. Since then, states and localities have used the Clean Water SRF loan program to help meet critical environmental infrastructure financing needs.
However, as I indicated a moment ago, in many states, the need for public wastewater system improvements greatly exceeds typical Clean Water SRF funding levels. For instance, in fiscal year 2002, a level of $1.35 billion was appropriated for the Clean Water SRF program. However, in Ohio alone, about $7.4 billion in needs have been identified.
The City of Akron, for example, has proposed a CSO Long-Term Control Plan that will cost more than $248 million to implement – nearly 20 percent of the total SRF level appropriated in fiscal year 2002 for the entire nation. Without outside funding, Akron’s sewer rates could more than double.
In many instances, communities face having to increase rates – sometimes as much as 100 percent or more – in order to comply with a number of federal requirements. Without outside help, many of these communities cannot respond to the needs of their citizens. Simply put, if the federal government mandates it, the federal government ought to help pay for it.
Authorization for the Clean Water SRF expired at the end of fiscal year 1994, and the continued failure of Congress to reauthorize the program sends an implicit message that wastewater infrastructure is not a national priority. Well, Mr. Chairman, we can not afford to continue to ignore our unmet needs, and I believe that reauthorizing the Clean Water SRF program should fit right into our homeland security agenda.
My bill, the Clean Water Infrastructure Financing Act, would authorize a total of $15 billion over the next five years for the Clean Water SRF program. Additionally, my bill would provide technical and planning assistance for small systems, expand the typed of projects eligible for loan assistance, and offer financially-distressed communities extended loan repayment periods and principal subsidization. The bill would also allow states to give priority consideration to financially-distressed communities.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased that your bill, the Water Investment Act, includes the core elements of my Clean Water SRF reauthorization bill. As someone who has had a long-standing interest in water infrastructure issues, I would like to see this Committee support legislation that would increase funding for our nation’s water infrastructure needs, increases state and local community flexibility to use SRF funds, provide our small communities assistance in financing their water infrastructure needs, and offer financially-distressed additional consideration and assistance.
While the funding levels included in the proposed legislation is modest compared to what is needed to bridge the enormous water infrastructure funding gap, passage of legislation which increases the authorization levels for the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water SRF programs would be a great step in the right direction.
Even though the loans provided by the SRF programs can help many communities finance water infrastructure projects, even a low-interest or no-interest loan can be too expensive for some communities. That is why I have also been a strong supported of the two-year, $1.5 billion Wet Weather Grants Program that Congress enacted in 2000. I worked last year to fully fund the first year of the program. Although Congress did not provide any funding to the program, I will continue to push for the necessary funding to keep this program viable.
I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for including the Clean Water Infrastructure Financing Act on today’s agenda. I look forward to the testimony from this morning’s witnesses, and I also look forward to working with you and Senators Graham, Crapo, and Smith as the Committee moves forward with its important water infrastructure legislative agenda. Thank you.