A $10 billion plan to clean the nation’s water is murky on facts
Since his presidential campaign, President Joe Biden has promised Americans he would work tirelessly to improve our country’s infrastructure — including improvements to roads, railways, waterways, network connections, and more. On Aug. 10, that promise was brought closer to reality when the $1 trillion infrastructure bill was passed in the Senate.
I am proud to say that the passing of this bill is due in part to the bipartisan leadership of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), both of whom I’m lucky enough to call colleagues and friends. Now that the Senate has passed this critical and moderate framework, it is up to the House to ensure this history-making bill maintains the best interest of the American people and prioritizes the most pressing issues our country faces.
One of the top priorities of the infrastructure package is to address our country’s outdated, underfunded, and at times dangerous, water systems. Within the $1 trillion bill, there is $55 billion allocated towards water and wastewater infrastructure. While I applaud that high dollar amount and am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction, some of the budget allocations have me worried.
Within the $55 billion for water infrastructure, $10 billion is being set aside to clean up chemicals known as PFAS, something that has been a pet project for many progressives. While they have been a popular topic of debate among liberals, PFAS are not even listed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s main concerns facing our water, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain.”
There are so many other pressing issues facing our water quality in this country, to spend one-fifth of the total budget for water infrastructure on something that is not a top concern and does not have proven human health impacts does not make sense.
As a West Virginian, this is an issue that hits close to home for me. Our state has been grappling with water pollution from abandoned coal mines for decades, and not nearly enough has been done about it. Frankly, hardly anything has been done about it. Mountaintop removal, which is performed almost exclusively in our state, is the process in which miners blast the tops of mountains in order to excavate coal, and then dump waste rock into the valleys below, polluting the surrounding waterways and air.
In fact, a report by the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 2,000 miles of streams have been buried by the excess rock and soil that is dumped after coal excavations. Because of this, studies show that more than half of West Virginia counties rank among the worst in the nation for drinking water quality. Even more disturbing, those same studies found that 912,650 West Virginians are consuming water from systems out of compliance with the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act.
While West Virginia will benefit in many ways from the infrastructure bill, as laid out by Manchin, the issues facing our water quality are not being addressed. And I know I do not speak for only West Virginia when I say this. Many other Americans are facing very real, very pressing issues with their water quality, and we need to make sure those needs are being met.
Instead, $10 billion is going towards cleanup of chemicals that do not affect the majority of the country. As the House reviews the bill, I hope that the concerns and needs of the majority of Americans are being addressed and the cries of outliers do not sway their decision.
This infrastructure package has the potential to make history, but we will not see it cross the finish line if lawmakers do not take a closer look at the budget allocations and ensure we are spending the $1 trillion wisely.
Nick Rahall served as a United States representative from West Virginia from 1977 to 2015. While in Congress he served on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He is the longest-serving member ever of the U.S. House of Representatives from the state of West Virginia.