Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, participated in a hearing titled, “Accessing Clean Water Infrastructure Assistance: Small, Rural, Disadvantaged and Underserved Communities.”
Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Capito as delivered.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman…and thank you all witnesses for being here with us today.
“It’s an important hearing to provide the oversight of the implementation of clean water investments for small and disadvantaged communities under the IIJA.
“Again, I’d like to thank the witnesses for their willingness to testify about this important topic.
“This Committee values your perspectives on the opportunities and challenges facing this nation’s water infrastructure, some of it is very, very old, as well as your insights on effective solutions.
“The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act provisions of the IIJA had a special focus on the infrastructure challenges faced by small, rural, disadvantaged, and underserved communities.
“As the Chairman said, a bit over two years after enactment, it is easy for stakeholders on the ground and we in Congress to identify where the EPA’s implementation of these programs is working and, more importantly, what’s not working or how we can improve this.
“The IIJA water provisions drafted by this Committee authorized $55 billion in funding for a range of water infrastructure programs, including targeted grants for small and disadvantaged communities, funding for lead service line replacement, and support for innovative water technologies, as well as money for wastewater treatment and storm water management.
“These funding opportunities provide new resources for grants and low-interest loans to technical assistance.
“These funds can support critical infrastructure upgrades, including the construction of wastewater facilities and wastewater treatment systems, nonpoint source pollution management, and measures to manage storm water and subsurface drainage.
“Additionally, the funding can support capacity building initiatives, including workforce development and training programs, to help communities build the expertise they need to manage and maintain their water systems for years to come.
“Despite these significant funding opportunities, many rural, small, and disadvantaged communities are still grappling with aging infrastructure that is in need of repair or replacement, while others are dealing with emerging contaminants like PFAS that require specialized treatment technologies.
“At the same time, these communities often lack the resources and the technical expertise needed to address these obstacles, leaving them vulnerable to waste water problems leading to public health risks.
“These communities may not have the staff or technical capacity to track and apply for grants and loans as they become available.
“That is why the Clean Water Act explicitly empowers the states to determine which of their communities qualify as disadvantaged.
“The EPA should therefore work with the states to get this money where it is needed as quickly as possible.
“Unfortunately, I have significant concerns that the EPA is overstepping its statutory authority to use these funds to affect administration policy priorities that were not approved by Congress under the Clean Water Act or the IIJA.
“The result is unnecessary friction in getting these programs stood up and investments flowing to the communities that need them.
“Inconsistent application of Buy America waivers, across agencies and even within them, has caused delays for projects.
“More concerning, regulatory guidance on environmental justice in service of the administration’s very vague Justice40 goal tied to state formula grants appears to be an effort by the EPA to wrestle away states’ statutory authorities under the Clean Water Act.
“We all have concerns about disadvantaged communities, urban and rural, minority or low-income, receiving the funding that they need and deserve.
“The states know their communities and their needs best, and what will work over the long haul.
“They also realize that water systems do not neatly align within the Justice40 initiative’s preference of using census tracts to define EJ communities, making the EPA’s guidance impractical to implement.
“The EPA must not sidetrack generational progress that can be made through the IIJA due to political agenda in this administration.
“These unnecessary obstacles imposed by federal regulators are leading to delays, uncertainty, and the potential for litigation, while allowing historic investments to be eaten up by increased inflation, higher interest rates we have experienced since the passage of the IIJA.
“The EPA needs to get out of the way and let states and communities get to work.
“I’ll close by saying what everyone in attendance in this room knows and across the country:
“Water infrastructure investments are critical to public health, environmental health, and economic development.
“The carefully negotiated, bipartisan successes this Committee has achieved to date for the wastewater section have been grounded in the cooperative federalism that is enshrined in the Clean Water Act.
“I’m hopeful these investments, properly implemented, can create more jobs and drive even more economic growth.
“Those kinds of economic opportunities need to be available everywhere, in my home state and across the country.
“I remain committed to working on these issues that are so important to my state West Virginia, and the states my fellow Committee members, an across the country.
“Thank you to our panel for all you do to keep our country’s water and wastewater systems clean and healthy.”
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