Floor Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords
In Opposition to the Bond Stormwater Amendment to the Highway Bill Mr. President, I rise in opposition to the Bond amendment to strike section 1620 of the underlying bill, the Highway Stormwater Discharge Mitigation Program. This section provides much-needed assistance to our states and local communities to deal with the impacts of highway stormwater discharges. Without these funds, our nation’s highway infrastructure is at risk of becoming a conduit for pollutants to reach fragile waterways and ecosystems. Mr. President, our nation is facing a water quality challenge. Since the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1970, we have taken steps to reduce pollution coming from point sources such as wastewater treatment plants and industry. However, according to the EPA’s most recent National Water Quality Inventory, 40 percent of our nation’s waterways are still impaired. Non-point source pollution is the next hurdle for this nation to overcome if we are to truly make progress and improve our water quality. EPA states that urban run-off and storm sewers are the number four source of pollution in rivers, number three in lakes, and number two in estuaries. When it rains or when snow melts, roads serve as conduits for pollutants such as oil and grease, heavy metals, and sediment that flow directly into rivers, streams, and lakes. Because roads prevent rainfall and snowmelt from soaking into the ground, the physical characteristics of surrounding water bodies are also altered. Groundwater recharge is reduced, affecting water supplies. Stream channels erode due to rapid, heavy flows, leading to excessive siltation in rivers and streams which severely impacts fish habitat. This is a major part of our stormwater problem in Vermont. Water temperatures are altered, impacting wildlife. In addition, flooding can occur which not only damages the environment, but also puts human lives and property at risk. The Highway Stormwater Discharge Mitigation Program will ensure that communities have at least a portion of the resources to solve their water quality problems stemming from Federal-aid highways. It authorizes two percent of Surface Transportation Program funds to be used for highway stormwater discharge mitigation. This would provide a total of eight-hundred and $67 million over five years. The program would reduce the impacts to watersheds from the development of highways and roads while addressing the goals in the federal Clean Water Act by funding projects that improve water quality. The new program emphasizes non-structural solutions to managing stormwater runoff, which reduce costs to local communities, protect the natural water cycle, and provide more overall environmental benefits. In my home state of Vermont, Lake Champlain, which also borders the State of New York, is threatened by pollution from storm water run off. Although it is one of the cleanest large lakes in the United States, Lake Champlain is polluted with nutrients and sediment. The fastest growing source of pollution reaching the lake is runoff from developed land, including highways. Roadway drainage systems carry sediment and nutrients, and the cost of cleaning up existing roadway runoff to Lake Champlain is estimated at more than $500,000 each year for the next nine years. Similar problems exist in the Connecticut River basin in Vermont. Currently, our state is struggling to deal with a backlog of expired storm water permits, extremely limited resources, and statewide storm water discharge water quality issues that threaten the growth of our economy by stalling development. The two most important road improvement projects in our biggest city have been repeatedly delayed by storm water pollution concerns, slowing the construction schedules by months and even years. One of our greatest assets in my home state of Vermont is our pristine environment, including Lake Champlain. We need to ensure that as we improve our roadway network to meet the demands of a growing population we do not sacrifice the quality of our environment that draws people to visit and move to Vermont in the first place. I have heard some of my colleagues from more arid states question the need for these funds given climatic differences. However, each and every state in the nation has critical storm water mitigation needs. Under new regulations that took effect in March 2003, over 50,000 small communities, counties, and other areas in every state must now manage stormwater runoff to meet Clean Water Act requirements. The EPA estimated the cost to comply with these regulations to be about one billion dollars per year. Larger cities already manage stormwater pollution in order to meet discharge permits and other Clean Water Act requirements. Every state in the country has at least one community covered by these regulations. The arid and semi-arid western United States has receiving waters that are generally smaller than their eastern counterparts. Therefore, the impacts of urban stormwater are more strongly felt in western waterways. For example, in the state of Nevada, the Las Vegas Valley Stormwater Management Committee found in its 2003 annual report that zinc and lead concentrations were 10 to 96 times higher in stormwater runoff than in other parts of the nation, an effect attributed to the fewer number of storms in the arid southwest. EPA estimates that Arizona communities will need about $150 million to meet stormwater regulatory requirements, plus an additional $40 million dollars in estimated costs to address urban runoff. Arizona’s portion of stormwater funding under section 1620 of the highway bill is about seventeen million dollars. The California Department of Transportation estimates that the cost of stormwater controls on existing highways would range from between $4 and $7.5 million per mile of highway. The Chesapeake Bay Commission estimated in January of 2003 that stormwater retrofit costs across the watershed are more than $9 billion. Mr. President, in demonstration of the nationwide support for this stormwater provision in the highway bill, I ask unanimous consent that multiple letters opposing the Bond amendment and endorsing the underlying provision be included in the record. The Bond amendment is opposed by the: U.S. Conference of Mayors, State Water Pollution Control Administrators, Environmental Council of States, Trout Unlimited, Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, Metropolitan Water Agencies, American Rivers, and a host of other organizations. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a letter from the League of Conservation Voters indicating its opposition to the Bond amendment and its intent to score this vote be included in the record. Mr. President, one of our nation’s most precious resources is our water. Water quality affects the environment, wildlife, our health, and our economy. Section 1620 of the transportation bill recognizes the significant contribution that roads make to stormwater pollution, and it provides critical funding to help states and local communities mitigate these damages. I urge my colleagues to oppose the Bond amendment.