This year's election is an epic battle of two very different visions for the future of our country. None of the political players are talking much about water, yet I expect this election to have an impact on the Municipal water market for years to come.
In general, a Democratic sweep this November would be good for those who favor environmental enforcement and federal funding for environmental protection. In general, a Republican sweep would mean less regulation and most likely less federal funding for water infrastructure. Anything less than a sweep by one party will almost certainly mean continued gridlock in Washington.
President Obama has earned the "green" label with his support for alternative energy and programs that reduce climate change impacts. Under his administration, EPA has been very active in issuing new guidelines and rules impacting water, wastewater and stormwater utilities. The agency has also developed a special focus on use of Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development for managing water in urban environments.
If Obama wins reelection and Democrats retain control of at least one house of Congress, I would expect that to continue.
Republicans, in broad general terms, are not exactly fans of EPA. The more extreme members of the party see the agency as a bunch of out-of-control, power grabbing, job killing, big government bureaucrats. If they had their druthers they would burn the agency down and dump the toxic ashes in the nearest creek. (Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I live in Oklahoma.)
Two of the major targets for their ire have been efforts to redefine what constitutes waters of the United States and guidelines released earlier this year on water quality standards for wetlands. Both are seen as an effort by EPA to extend its jurisdictional reach far beyond what Congress ever intended.
If the Republicans win the White house and both houses of Congress in November, I would expect a lot of folks at EPA will be looking for jobs. I would also expect the pace of new regulation and enforcement to slow.
Given the state of the national debt and the divide in Congress, however the election turns out, I don't see much hope for new federal funding for water systems. The several measures introduced so far this year will all die with the end of this Congressional session.
Setting aside politics, I think many, if not most, people working in the water industry see themselves as protectors of the environment and public health. Environmental regulation is a good thing – until it goes beyond reason and/or sustainability. In recent years we might have stepped over that edge. Stepping back a bit might be a good thing.
In the end, I think most people in the industry would favor less regulation and more federal funding for water. But that won't happen until there is a dramatic change in Washington – a change where the two houses of Congress and the president, whoever that might be, decide to work together for the good of the nation.
Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing!
James Laughlin, Editor