WASHINGTON - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the business meeting to consider Substitute amendment to S.__, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 and Substitute amendment to S.__, Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020. Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Our committee is gathered here today in a different room than the one in which we normally meet, and as we wear face masks and attempt to maintain at least six feet of separation between us, we are reminded that these are far from normal times.
“Before we turn to the two pieces of very fine legislation whose consideration brings us together today, let me first express my thanks to you for your leadership and to every member of this committee – and most members of the Senate – for the input they’ve provided that has enabled majority and minority staff members to draft the legislation that is before us.
“I would note that the United States Senate has returned to work in Washington, D.C. today while the rest of the city – and much of our country – remain under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to ravage many communities across America. Last month, we learned that here in this city, African Americans account for almost 80 percent of COVID-19-related deaths. In fact, we’re reminded almost daily by news stories that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by harmful air pollution, which is a comorbidity of this disease. In recent weeks, studies have consistently shown a link between air pollution and higher numbers of COVID-19-related deaths. Despite these findings, the EPA has answered the president’s call to be ‘all-hands-on-deck’ in this fight largely by seeking to roll back major public health protections for clean air.
“So, as our committee moves forward on two important, bipartisan pieces of legislation today, I hope we will also be mindful of our responsibility as senators to conduct oversight on the federal government’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, we also have an opportunity to highlight some of the science and innovation that can help us overcome this deadly pandemic. In recent days, for example, we have learned that detecting the COVID-19 virus in wastewater might also help us measure and monitor the infection levels of a larger population.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also reminded us that access to clean water and public health are critically connected. In addition, we are reminded daily – almost hourly, it seems -- just how important it is to have access to soap and clean water for washing our hands – a simple, yet effective, way to prevent the spread of virulent disease.
“And that, Mr. Chairman, brings me to our focus today: improving and investing in our country’s waterways, as well as in our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure systems. Our country’s drinking water and wastewater systems, shipping channels and flood control structures are essential to our economy and to our way of life, but they remain in desperate need of improvements and investments.
“America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 are two bipartisan bills that will help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA continue to make more of the urgently needed improvements to key water infrastructure systems throughout our country.
“Every American relies on water and on our water infrastructure – most without realizing it. Millions of Americans across this country rely on Army Corps projects to safely navigate our waters, stay safe from flooding and storm damage, and reap the benefits of healthy aquatic ecosystems and marshlands. In communities across America, Army Corps projects are often the silent engines that power local economies, too.
“For example, in Wilmington, Delaware, the Port of Wilmington supports more than 19,000 jobs in our region. It is the United States’ top seaport for fresh fruit imports. The Army Corps is working diligently with our Port on an expansion project that will open a channel to a new containment facility in Edgemoor, just a few miles north of Wilmington on the Delaware River. The Army Corps is responsible for dredging and maintaining access to this new channel, which – over time -- will support more commerce and more jobs.
“In addition to authorizing necessary projects, America’s Water Infrastructure Act will also improve agency transparency and accountability for the budgeting, conduct and completion of federal projects. Our Committee has heard that the Corps’ arcane benefit-cost analysis – which the Corps relies on to prioritize projects – often fails to capture the critical needs and true economic benefits of projects in smaller, coastal, rural, disadvantaged and tribal communities. This legislation addresses those problems.
“Meanwhile, too many of our communities are facing significant water contamination. In the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, we are reauthorizing the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund for the first time since 1987, a fund that so many of our communities use to improve their wastewater systems. In the drinking water bill, we authorize more than a half-billion dollars to provide critical drinking water infrastructure through the Small and Disadvantaged Communities grant program.
“We also continue our work to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, but commonly referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because they degrade so slowly over time. The drinking water bill expands an EPA grant program that became law last year to allow it to provide funds to clean up groundwater contaminated with PFAS, in addition to drinking water. The bill before us today also includes provisions that previously passed the Senate to require EPA to set a drinking water standard for two of the PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.
“And, finally, looking to the future, these two bipartisan bills will also help to fortify our communities from the growing impacts of climate change. These bills expand grants that will help small and medium-sized communities increase the resiliency of their water systems to natural hazards and extreme weather.
“Before I close, Mr. Chairman, let me say that as far as we have come in reporting these bills today, we have more work to do before these bills are ready for the floor. I’d like to mention briefly two issues in particular. First, Democratic Senators want to keep working as this bill moves to the floor to ensure that many types of ports receive a balanced distribution of funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. I appreciate your agreement to ensure this outstanding issue is addressed before these pieces of legislation go to the Senate floor.
“Second, I am troubled that we have not been able to make more progress on language submitted to the committee by Senator Gillibrand that would ask EPA to determine whether to set standards under the Clean Water Act to limit the amount of PFAS that can be released into the environment by industry. Forcing water ratepayers to pay to remove the PFAS from their drinking water and providing taxpayer funding to clean up contaminated sites are efforts made less effective if we don’t also take steps to reduce the amount of PFAS being released into our environment in the first place. I hope our Chairman will joining me in the weeks ahead in leading a determined effort to find a bipartisan solution on this matter, something my staff and others are anxious to do.
“I appreciate your agreement to ensure this outstanding issues are addressed before these pieces of legislation go to the Senate floor. With that, Mr. Chairman, let me again thank you and your staff – as well as members of our minority staff -- for all of the work that’s gone into drafting these two pieces of legislation that are before us today.”