Senator Lautenberg and Senator Vitter, thank you for holding this hearing on the wastewater infrastructure. Water infrastructure has been a long-standing concern of mine. In fact, my first bill that I introduced as a young state legislator in the 1960s was a $375 million state bond issue to get the state involved with wastewater treatment. I think it is clear 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 subcommittee has made it a priority by holding this hearing.
In addition, I would like to thank the witnesses for being here today. As a former Governor and Mayor, I respect and know firsthand the enormous challenges you have in addressing this issue in your cities and states.
As many of my colleagues know, the Clean Water SRF Program is an effective and immensely popular source of funding for wastewater collection and treatment projects. Billions of dollars have already been spent and billions more are needed to upgrade the nation’s aging wastewater infrastructure. I firmly believe the federal government is responsible for paying its fair share.
That is why I was very disappointed that EPA’s 2008 budget proposed severe spending cuts for the Clean Water SRF Program. I hope the increased funding levels in both the Senate ($1.1 billion) and House ($887 million) Fiscal Year 2008 Interior Appropriations bills for the SRF program subsist.
As in many states, Ohio has needs for public wastewater system improvements which greatly exceed the typical Clean Water SRF funding levels. According to Ohio EPA, Ohio’s capital investment needs for publicly owned wastewater treatment facilities are $12.9 billion. Of that amount, almost $6.3 billion of improvements have been identified as necessary to address combined sewer overflow (CSO) problems in over 100 communities. The City of Akron, for example, has proposed to spend $426 million over 30 years to fix the City’s CSO problems.
That is why I’m an original co-sponsor of Senator Lautenberg’s bill – the Water Quality Investment Act, which would authorize nearly $2 billion in federal grants to fund the repair and replacement of combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows. In 2002 and 2004, the EPW Committee adopted my amendments to authorize funding for this program as part of the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water SRF reauthorization legislation. I look forward to working on this issue once again with Senator Lautenberg to help communities tackle sewer overflows.
I am also concerned about the impacts of the funding needs for water infrastructure in our rural communities. In Ohio, many of these communities are in the Appalachia. Data from EPA surveys show that 47 percent of Appalachian households nationwide are not served by a public sewer. For many communities, this lack of service is forcing residents to haul water from springs or rain barrels. A 2003 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) water and wastewater needs study reported that counties with higher densities of septic systems received less public funding than counties with lower densities of septic systems.
I am concerned that these communities are not receiving funding because the SRF process is too cumbersome. I am anxious to hear from our witnesses today on how Congress can address this problem for our rural communities as we consider reauthorization for the Clean Water SRF.
Authorization for the Clean Water SRF expired at the end of fiscal year 1994, and the failure of Congress to reauthorize the program sends an implicit message that wastewater collection and treatment is not a national priority. The longer we wait to reauthorize this program, the longer it creates uncertainty about the program’s future in the eyes of borrowers, which could delay or in some cases prevent project financing. In order to allow any kind of substantial increase in spending, reauthorization of the Clean Water SRF program is necessary.
I am particularly interested in hearing all of your thoughts on the Clean Water SRF program’s benefits and limitations as it currently stands. I would also like to know what you believe we in Congress can change during reauthorization to make the program more beneficial to our nation’s cities and states. Again, I want to thank you all for attending this hearing.