Water Bill Is A Priority For Congress (Rep. James Oberstar)

Today, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 1262, the Water Quality Investment Act of 2009, by a vote of 317 to 101. The bipartisan legislation renews the Federal government’s commitment to clean water by authorizing $18.7 billion over the next five years for wastewater infrastructure and other efforts to improve water quality.

In the Manager’s Amendment, we added some provisions to the bill to make our water infrastructure activities more environmentally friendly. For example, the Manager’s Amendment to H.R. 1262 ensures that certain “green technology” activities are eligible for funding within pilot projects that control stormwater runoff. It also increases the authorization for the green technology to $100 million for each fiscal year from 2010 through 2014. Further, it requires states to set aside 20 percent of combined sewer and sanitary sewer grants to communities that implement green infrastructure or other water and energy efficient improvements. It also makes the construction of energy-efficient or renewable-energy generation technologies at publicly-owned sewerage agencies eligible for funding under the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF).

Some other adjustments to the bill that were contained in the Manager’s Amendment include providing additional transparency and accountability by requiring the EPA to conduct, and make publicly available, an annual performance review of expenditures from the Clean Water SRF, including a review of the types of projects and an estimate of the number of jobs created. It provides additional criteria for states to determine “affordability criteria” for wastewater infrastructure projects, including factors related to per capita income and local unemployment rates.

Additional changes include authorizing additional studies on the water-related infrastructure needs along the United States-Mexico border region, and the condition of wastewater infrastructure on the Great Lakes; requiring the EPA Administrator to conduct a study on the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the waters of the United States; and authorizing tribal governments to be eligible for technical and management assistance for small publicly-owned sewerage agencies.

Investing in our wastewater infrastructure is a critical priority, both for Congress and the Obama Administration. Quick enactment of H.R. 1262 will mean a significant beneficial impact on the quality of the nation’s waters and environment, as well as the protection of public health.