Congress Considers Water Industry Funding Measures

Although most of the attention on Congress over the past two years has been focused on major legislation like health care and financial reform, a number of bills that could impact the water industry have been struggling through the legislative process.

Aug 1st, 2010
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Although most of the attention on Congress over the past two years has been focused on major legislation like health care and financial reform, a number of bills that could impact the water industry have been struggling through the legislative process.

Given that Congress is on recess in August and will likely be focused on re-election this fall, most of the more than 90 pieces of legislation that have a water component will fall by the wayside.

Reauthorization of the State Revolving Fund programs for drinking water and wastewater appeared to have at least a chance of passage. The House has already passed the Water Quality Financing Act of 2009. Also, the Energy and Commerce Committee has moved legislation to reauthorize the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund out of their committee. The Senate has also moved legislation to reauthorize both the Clean Water SRF and the Drinking Water SRF out of the Environmental and Public Works Committee.

Still, the path from committee approval to actually being signed into law is both long and difficult -- especially in an election year.

Also related to water infrastructure funding, a congressional briefing was held in late July to discuss the need for a Clean Water Trust Fund to protect sources of drinking water and fragile watersheds. The briefing focused on why a Clean Water Trust Fund, outlined by Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon in the Water Protection and Reinvestment Act (HR 3202), is needed to fund the nation's water infrastructure and water quality challenges.

Another measure that has seen action recently was The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act (S. 1816), authored by Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee. It was approved June 30 by a voice vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee after significant concessions were made to Republican opponents.

An official with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which recently settled a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency over bay restoration, said the compromises would improve chances for passing the bill and would not affect the EPA's restoration strategy.

The bill is designed to protect and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, which stretches across six states and the District of Columbia, from New York to Virginia.

At the same time, the Senate committee also confirmed the need for the federal government to pay localities for cleaning up stormwater pollution it generates. Senate Bill 3481 would require the federal government to comply with local stormwater fees that are used to treat and manage polluted stormwater runoff.

Many federal government offices and departments have been refusing to pay stormwater-related fees over the past year based on a report by the GAO that such fees were actually "a tax against property owners." I wrote my Viewpoint column on the topic in the June issue of WaterWorld.

One astute reader sent me a note pointing out that if stormwater fees are in fact a local tax, then property owners have every right to claim a deduction on their income taxes. I'm not a tax attorney, but it certainly seems reasonable. If the IRS questioned the deduction, you could always send them a copy of the GAO letter. (Just kidding!!)

James Laughlin, Editor

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