I would like to thank Senator Lautenberg for having this long overdue hearing. As Chairman of this Committee during the past two Congresses, I twice moved comprehensive legislation that reauthorized both the clean water and drinking water state revolving loan funds. I am pleased to see this issue remains a Committee priority.
I am glad to welcome Mr. Joe Freeman, Chief of the Financial Assistance Division for the State of Oklahoma . Mr. Freeman has been a great resource to my staff and I welcome his insights into how the program is currently working and what we may do to make it better. I am also pleased that the National Rural Water Association, based in Oklahoma, is represented today by the Louisiana chapter. The majority of the nation’s wastewater systems are small systems and theirs is a perspective from which we can all benefit hearing.
The Clean Water SRF is the cornerstone of federal clean water assistance to the nation’s cities and towns. Since its creation in 1987, the Clean Water SRF has saved its borrowers over $3.7 billion in interest costs and also provided $8.2 billion in funding to improve the nation’s water quality. Importantly, the federal government has provided $24 billion in state capitalization grants. In 2006, there was more than $60 billion available for loans to communities.
Today’s hearing is limited to wastewater or clean water needs. Oklahoma has projected $586 million in clean water related needs over the next 20 years. As one of today’s witnesses mentions, this figure does not include any future costs due to new regulations. Further, in the last drinking water needs survey, Oklahoma ’s reported needs were $4.8 billion over the next 20 years. Importantly $107 million of that need is known to be a direct result of federal drinking water requirements. Without providing sufficient federal funds to help cities to meet those requirements, they become not just requirements, but federal unfunded mandates. My staff has received assurances that the absence of drinking water from this hearing will not preclude us from reauthorizing the drinking water SRF program. I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop a clean, comprehensive funding proposal.
The effort that we are about to undertake will be the fourth time in four Congresses that we have attempted to move a water infrastructure bill. Only one of our previous three attempts at passing a water infrastructure bill was bipartisan. I hope that this year we can again have a bipartisan bill as we did last Congress under my leadership and that we can work together to move it to the Senate floor. To do so, we must avoid many of the mistakes of previous efforts.
The bill must be clean of too many additional requirements on the applicants. We are not providing grants through the current SRF. These are loans to be repaid by municipalities. In order to truly provide them with federal assistance in meeting their regulatory obligations under the federal environmental statutes, we must provide loans with as few strings attached as possible. There are legislative proposals pending that include additional requirements for states and localities to meet. While I am sure someone can find value in almost all of these requirements, I am concerned their cumulative impact may be to create a program far too burdensome for anyone to use.
Additionally, in previous attempts, even last year, we failed to come to a unified committee resolution to the issue of Davis-Bacon. Failing to do so again will likely result in yet another stalemate. I must again, as I have in the past, encourage all parties to come to the table to find a path forward that keeps the Committee united behind a single bill.
This is an important issue. While some may disagree over the exact amount of the funding gap, there can be no denying that it exists. The question before the Committee is, what if any changes do we need to make to the federal clean water program to ensure it is best meeting the needs of our local communities and lessening that gap? As the single most conservative member of the Senate, as voted by the American Conservative Union, I have consistently advocated for developing and improving the nation’s infrastructure and providing for our nation’s defense. I look forward to this hearing and to working with my colleagues to develop a comprehensive funding proposal. Thank you again to Senator Lautenberg for holding this hearing.