WWEMA Still Pushing for Restrictions on ‘Buy American’ Mandates

The Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) has argued that federal water legislation should not contain mandates requiring utilities to purchase American products. Further, it said that the broad manufactured goods mandate posed significant challenges to many communities seeking to use the economic stimulus funds.

By Patrick Crow

The Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) has been vocal in its argument that federal water legislation should not contain mandates requiring utilities to purchase American products. WWEMA says the issue is one of practicality, not patriotism.

In the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress imposed "Buy American" (BA) requirements for iron, steel and manufactured goods used in federally-aided water infrastructure. WWEMA said the broad manufactured goods mandate posed significant challenges to many communities seeking to use the economic stimulus funds.

In the recently-enacted Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), Congress also imposed BA rules for domestic iron and steel use on all clean water projects facilitated in whole or in part by state revolving fund (SRF) loans.

The iron and steel products listed included "lined or unlined pipes and fittings, manhole covers and other municipal castings, hydrants, tanks, flanges, pipe clamps and restraints, valves, structural steel, reinforced precast concrete, and construction materials."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is still in the process of promulgating the WIFIA legislation, is allowed to waive those requirements for individual projects if it determines that domestic iron and steel products are not available in sufficient quantities or of satisfactory quality; would increase a project's overall costs by more than 25 percent; or would otherwise be inconsistent with the public interest.

Now, in appropriations bills for the SRFs, congressional committees in both houses have approved the expansion of the protectionist mandate to drinking water projects.

That directive is unlikely to survive, since it is part of the EPA's budget. The Republican-controlled House has been attacking the Obama Administration's EPA, and the Democratic-
controlled Senate has been defending it. That politically-charged struggle seems beyond compromise before fiscal 2015 begins on Oct. 1 and is likely to result in Congress continuing the status quo.

Incidentally, the House-passed bill included $757 million for the drinking water SRF and $1 billion for the clean water SRF, reflecting the $581 million cut to the programs that President Obama proposed in his fiscal 2015 budget outline.

Vanessa Leiby, WWEMA executive director, has told Congress, "While Buy American makes a nice sound bite, it has unintended consequences that can be devastating to manufacturers right here in the United States." In a letter to key legislators last May, she outlined WWEMA's objections.

"This language creates a monopoly for a select few companies; restricts fair and open competition among U.S. manufacturers; creates regulatory burdens on municipalities, states and industry; restricts market growth; impedes technology advancement; and puts many U.S. companies at risk of going out of business.

"It also reduces our competitiveness in the global marketplace by creating new barriers to international trade. How can we expect and demand unrestricted trade abroad when we deny and restrict opportunities for our trading partners here in the U.S.?"

The group said that Buy American has led to a backlash from U.S. global trading partners, including Canada and the European Union, and has spawned many cases of retaliation. WWEMA is also lobbying EPA to take a moderate approach when it implements the BA provision in regulations.

The association said the "iron and steel" term should apply only to items listed specifically in legislation, not other manufactured items such as pumps, blowers, analytical instrumentation, biological and aeration equipment, disinfection equipment, filtration equipment, and ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis (RO) membrane equipment.

It said EPA should consider issuing waivers for any product listed that is not currently produced in the U.S. or not made in sufficient quantity to meet project requirements. "Pipe fitting, flanges and valves may be good examples of the types of products that may need waivers," it said.

WWEMA said manufacturers should be allowed to provide documentation of compliance through a short, standardized, one-page form. It said EPA's waiver process should be fast and the results readily disclosed to the public, engineering, firms, manufacturers, utilities, and all other interested stakeholders.

The association has established a portal on its website explaining for the water industry, "What You Should Know About Buy American." That web page contains data and resources on the effects of the requirements.

"This online portal is a one-stop resource to help manufacturers and other key stakeholders understand the legislation as well as its potential impact on their businesses and water and wastewater infrastructure projects," Leiby said. WW

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now a Houston, Texas-based freelance writer.

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