Treading Water: A Review of the 112th Congress

The 112th Congress may to go down in history as the least productive since 1947, according to USA Today. As of this writing (December 6, 2012), it has passed just 204 of 10,307 bills that have been introduced, for a productivity rate of just under 2 percent.

By Dawn Kristof Champney

The 112th Congress may to go down in history as the least productive since 1947, according to USA Today. As of this writing (December 6, 2012), it has passed just 204 of 10,307 bills that have been introduced, for a productivity rate of just under 2 percent.

Of those 10,307 bills, 104 were of particular interest to the water and wastewater industry; six of those 104 were enacted into law. As to the most significant congressional actions that took place in 2012, three are noteworthy:

Sustainable Water Infrastructure Investment Act

This legislation would remove the state volume caps on issuance of tax-exempt private activity bonds for water and wastewater projects. It has the potential to generate $5 billion annually in private capital for investing in public-purpose infrastructure projects, at an estimated cost to the federal Treasury of just $354 million over 10 years.

The measure had been attached to the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act but was stripped out at the final hour for unrelated reasons; however, effort was still underway to get it attached to any tax extender legislation or emergency relief measure that may be considered as a result of Super Storm Sandy. The legislation has strong bi-partisan support; in early December, it hit the 100 mark for House co-sponsors.

State Revolving Funds and Sequestration

Congressional inaction played to the industry's advantage as it pertained to federal capitalization of the EPA clean water and drinking water state revolving fund (SRF) programs in fiscal year 2013, which began October 1, 2012. The House measure to fund EPA would have cut the clean water SRF from $1.47 billion to $689 million and the drinking water SRF from $919 million to $829 million. The Senate's version wasn't quite as draconian and, in fact, would have added some additional funds to the clean water SRF for a total of $1.5 billion, while essentially maintaining the drinking water SRF at $918 million. Since no appropriations bills were enacted this year, with the federal government working instead under a continuing resolution, both programs continue to be funded at FY '12 levels.

That is subject to change should sequestration take effect. Both programs would face an 8.2 percent cut, chopping $120 million from the clean water SRF and $75 million from the drinking water SRF. It is estimated that this would equate to 75 projects not being funded this fiscal year.

Buy American

The final issue worth noting has to do with the "Buy American" language that has appeared in almost every legislative proposal involving federal assistance. The goal is to promote job growth in the United States, but in reality these provisions puts jobs in jeopardy, as U.S. companies find themselves unable to sell domestically due to their use of international supply chains and unable to sell internationally due to retaliation by other nations. Recently, one of the largest and most extensive water main projects in the Peel Region of Ontario, Canada, specifically prohibited U.S. competition, citing the Buy American provisions in EPA's FY 2013 appropriation bills as the cause.

None of these bills has been acted upon due to congressional paralysis, but it has been a constant battle to keep them at bay. Both the House and Senate versions of EPA's proposed FY 2013 appropriations bills contain Buy American provisions. The House measure specifies exactly which products are to be covered by this requirement, very limited in nature, while the Senate version leaves it up to EPA to decide the definition of "iron and steel products." The good news is that neither version any longer contains the words "manufactured goods."

A Look Ahead

The 2012 election did not produce substantial changes in the composition of the House and Senate; analysts say we can expect "more of the same" for the 113th Congress.

For the water and wastewater industry, this means we must continue to educate our legislators on the importance and indeed the urgency of supporting financing for water programs and infrastructure and the need to foster fair and open trade.

About the Author: Dawn Kristof Champney is president of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association, a 104-year old national trade organization representing the interests of companies that manufacture products for use in potable water and wastewater treatment applications.

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