WASHINGTON, D.C. — On November 8, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to examine how the Clean Water State Revolving Fund can help address wastewater infrastructure challenges faced by small, rural, disadvantaged and underserved communities.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Let me begin by thanking our colleagues and witnesses for joining us this morning to discuss an important topic: the clean water infrastructure needs of underserved communities across our country. I am particularly pleased that we will hear from three witnesses today who are uniquely qualified to share their perspectives on the challenges faced by clean water systems serving small, rural, and disadvantaged communities.
“As many of you may know, this issue is incredibly personal to me and my family. My sister and I grew up near Beckley, West Virginia. We lived near rivers and streams, including Beaver Creek, which was contaminated by nearby septic tanks and other waste.
“With that said, often when we talk about water infrastructure in our country, we tend to discuss drinking water systems that bring water to our homes, schools, and businesses. Yet, it’s important to note that wastewater and stormwater systems are every bit as vital to the health and prosperity of communities as their drinking water counterparts are.
“Let me be clear: clean water systems are indispensable. They mitigate pollution. They protect the health of our waterways. They shield communities from stormwater runoff, and they even help halt the spread of disease. For example, health officials in Delaware have been able to use data from our wastewater facility in New Castle County, Delaware to track the spread of opioids and diseases like COVID-19. They have been able to do so thanks in part to funding and resources from EPA. And, these types of public health advances are what we should hope every community in America has the opportunity to embrace.
“For over 35 years, Congress has provided federal wastewater assistance to communities through EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program. In the last ten years, however, we have heard from many disadvantaged communities that have struggled to compete for these funds.
“In addition, aging facilities, rising costs, emerging contaminants, climate change, and population shifts have all contributed to mounting financial burdens for wastewater treatment facilities across our country.
“These challenges are even worse for small, rural, and disadvantaged communities, which often have fewer ratepayers and, as a result, typically have fewer resources. Many of these same communities also struggle to effectively administer clean water systems due to a shortage of qualified labor and technical expertise to address growing challenges.
“Last Congress, our committee came together and worked to address many of these challenges in the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act. As some of you may recall, we drafted, negotiated, and unanimously advanced this bipartisan legislation out of our committee. We then went on to pass it in the full Senate by a vote of 89-2.
“Our water bill, combined with our committee’s historic highway legislation, served as the foundation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Biden signed into law nearly two years ago.
“In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we provided an unprecedented $55 billion to improve our nation’s water infrastructure — the largest-ever investment of its kind. As part of that investment, we included more than $11 billion for clean water infrastructure needs. And, it was all fully paid for.
“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also directed EPA to provide nearly half of this funding in the form of grants or principal forgiveness. We did so to help address the backlog of wastewater infrastructure projects and to support more rural, low-income, and disadvantaged communities.
“The wastewater investments made through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law were historic and much-needed. Yet, as I said in our September hearing on the law’s drinking water investments and authorizations, there is more that needs to be done and more that can be done. I oftentimes say that in everything I do, I know I can do better — that there is always room for improvement. Those words apply here as well.
“As we all know, water is essential for life. And, clean water — is essential to our health and well-being.
“With that in mind, let me close by offering some words of wisdom from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once said, ‘No matter who we are or where we come from, we're all entitled to the basic human rights of clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home.’ I agree — we have a moral obligation to provide Americans with clean water access.
“Today’s hearing is an opportunity for us to think about how we can better support wastewater services in small, rural, underserved, and disadvantaged communities. Again, we look forward to learning from our witnesses, to gaining their insights on our work, and to hearing their new ideas, as well.”