Hearings - Statement
Statement of Barbara Boxer
Hearing: Full Committee Hearing entitled, "Oversight Hearing on Federal Drinking Water Programs."
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, to protect public health by regulating the nation’s public drinking water supply. When President Ford signed the legislation into law, he spoke eloquently about the importance of providing federal protections for drinking water:

“Nothing is more essential to the life of every single American than clean air, pure food, and safe drinking water. There have been strong national programs to improve the quality of our air and the purity of our food. This bill will provide us with the protection we need for drinking water.”

I have convened this hearing to continue our oversight of EPA’s programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The last time that Congress amended large portions of the Act was in 1996. These amendments targeted resources to address the greatest health risks through a drinking water state revolving loan fund (DWSRF); added programs to improve small system compliance; created a new program to protect sources of drinking water; expanded the public’s right to know about what is in the water they drink; and strengthened existing enforcement authorities. The House passed these amendments 392 to 30, the Senate passed them unanimously.

One of the reasons I called this hearing is because I am concerned that the federal government has not done enough in recent years to maintain and improve drinking water safeguards. I want to ensure the federal government fully and effectively utilizes its authority under the law, and to ensure that EPA has the tools it needs to protect or children and communities across the country from dangerous water contamination.

For example, perchlorate is a toxic chemical contained in rocket fuel -- it does not belong in our drinking water. I have consistently worked for strong safeguards to protect people, including pregnant women, infants and children, from perchlorate. But the Bush Administration refused to set a drinking water standard for Perchlorate – despite strong scientific evidence that perchlorate is a public health threat -- leaving millions of Americans in dozens of states, including California, at risk.

That is why I asked Administrator Jackson in January to use the best available science to reconsider EPA’s interim decision not to regulate perchlorate under the Safe Drinking Water Act. I was pleased at the Obama Administration’s announcement in August that the EPA is taking another look at how to address the threat from perchlorate.

Americans also have a right to expect that their children are safe from drinking water pollution in their schools, but the Associated Press reported this year on toxic drinking water pollution – including lead contamination -- in the drinking water at thousands of schools across the nation. I have also asked the Administrator to develop a plan to address this unacceptable threat to America’s schoolchildren. We know that children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of pollution.

I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses, and in particular to EPA’s testimony on the steps that the Agency plans to take to address drinking water quality problems. I also want to hear about what EPA is doing to ensure that it has the data and monitoring systems in place to identify and address problems like these and share that information with the public.

I have also asked EPA to testify today specifically about steps they can take to improve assistance to small systems, to improve the effectiveness of enforcement and compliance action, to improve transparency, and to better protect children’s health.

State and local water quality agencies are generally a first line of defense to ensure the water our children drink is safe. However, EPA is critically important -- in setting standards, in assessing problems, and in backstopping state and local governments.

We have taken steps in this Committee that demonstrate strong bi-partisan support for water infrastructure improvements.

We joined together and passed – on a vote of 17 to 2 -- S. 1005, the Water Infrastructure Financing Act, which would provide nearly $15 billion from 2010-2014 for EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program. It has been more than 13 years since the Drinking Water SRF has been reauthorized, and this important legislation will invest in protecting the health of American families, create jobs and encourage communities to use the latest innovative technologies to deliver clean, safe water.

In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided approximately $2 billion for this program. I worked to get these funds included in the law because investing in our water infrastructure not only protects public health and strengthens our economy – it creates good jobs in communities across the nation.

I would like to thank our distinguished witnesses for agreeing to provide testimony today on this very important topic.

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