Water Groups Offer “Agenda” to President-Elect

Environmentalist around the country are celebrating the election of Barack Obama as our next President and are hoping for a dramatic and rapid shift in the nation’s environmental policies.

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Environmentalist around the country are celebrating the election of Barack Obama as our next President and are hoping for a dramatic and rapid shift in the nation’s environmental policies.

While there is no doubt we will see a stronger focus on the environment over the next four years when compared with recent experience, I suspect Obama will have larger fish to fry as he – and we as a country – struggle to reverse the current economic downturn.

In my last column I questioned the wisdom of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. The jury is still out on that measure. However, as I write Congress is considering another major stimulus package focused on infrastructure that could bring good news to the water industry.

It was unclear if the package would pass before Congress adjourns its lame-duck session, but it seems likely some form of infrastructure stimulus will be approved either now or shortly after the new Congress takes office in January. House and Senate versions differ, with water-related funding ranging from $2.5 to $7.5 billion.

During his campaign, Obama promised to increase federal funding for water treatment facilities and support initiatives aimed at reducing stormwater runoff. He is generally viewed as “green” and has voiced strong support for programs that reduce climate change impacts and improve energy efficiency.

On the water front, the American Water Works Association and other water groups have authored a report on the industry’s needs designed to help guide Obama and his incoming administration. Topics discussed include the need for a long-term commitment to infrastructure investment.

The report, entitled “A National Agenda for Drinking Water,” specifically asks for dedicated funding for water infrastructure in any economic stimulus package, dispersed in such a way as to be quickly accessed by utility managers, with a minimum of delay and red tape. It advocates equal funding for drinking water and wastewater projects.

Recommendations for longer-term infrastructure investment include low- or no-interest loans and tax incentives, as well as grants in some instances.

The report also suggests that the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund and USDA Rural Water Loan and Grant programs be funded at a minimum of $1 billion annually. It flatly rejects any federal water tax, charge, or levy against either utilities or customers.

On the standards front, the report advocates “the deliberative, science-based” processes of the Safe Drinking Water Act and calls for the administration to reject legislative prescriptions for decisions that should be made through the regulatory process. One example might be perchlorate regulations, a pet project of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

To read the Agenda, visit the AWWA’s website at www.awwa.org.

As the new administration takes power and Democrats strengthen their hold on Congress, I can only speculate on what impact they will have on the water industry. On one hand, I would expect more funding for water infrastructure, which is a good thing. On the other hand, I would also expect more regulation, which might be a bad thing for utilities already struggling to make ends meet.

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James Laughlin, Editor

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