Chairman Rouzer Statement from Hearing on Clean Water Infrastructure Financing
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman David Rouzer (R-NC-07) delivered the following opening remarks at today's Subcommittee hearing entitled, "Clean Water Infrastructure Financing: State and Local Perspectives and Recent Developments." Chairman Rouzer emphasized the importance of improving our clean water infrastructure, protecting against environmental degradation, and keeping costs low for ratepayers.
First, thank you to our witnesses for being here today. I am eager to hear from you on the issues local communities are facing in their efforts to address the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs. Specifically, I am most interested in hearing your insights on water infrastructure financing, especially the current condition of the Clean Water State Revolving Funds, or SRFs as they are commonly known.
Our clean water infrastructure is something most Americans don’t think about but rely on 24/7. But ask anyone who has ever dealt with a sewer backup how important wastewater infrastructure is. In many communities, these water and wastewater systems are long past their design life and in need of critical repairs, upgrades, or total replacement. As a result, leaks and blockages are all too common across the nation and represent a massive waste of a vital resource. These needs are especially urgent for hundreds of communities trying to fix the problems of combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows.
Wastewater infrastructure deficiencies are particularly acute in many small and rural communities. There are more than 16,000 private and public wastewater treatment systems nationwide, and approximately 80 percent serve communities with populations of 10,000 or less.
For example, in my district, there almost 100 communities with 10,000 residents or less, including the Town of Chadbourn in Columbus County. Chadbourn, interestingly enough, has wastewater systems as old as their date of incorporation, which was 1883. The Clean Water SRF program has allowed them to maintain their systems while they pursue long-term solutions.
According to the EPA’s last “Clean Water Needs Survey” report to Congress, the total documented needs for sustainable wastewater infrastructure, combined with sewer overflow and sanitary sewer overflow correction, and stormwater management nationwide are at least $270 billion over the next two decades.
In my home state of North Carolina alone, there is a documented need of $11 billion for clean water projects. To further underscore the need, coastal and low-lying inland communities in Southeastern North Carolina experience frequent storms resulting in flooded rivers and watersheds, which often leave water and drainage systems in need of total repair and future mitigation.
These investments are expensive and cannot be handled by simply authorizing and appropriating the same or larger amounts of federal funds. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) recognized the importance of the Clean Water SRF program, but simply pumped more money at the problem without addressing some fundamental shortfalls. While federal, state, and local investments are necessary, new approaches are needed to solve these problems.
Integrated planning and greater regulatory flexibility can help communities struggling to address their needs and meet compliance mandates while also reducing financial burdens currently levied on ratepayers.
When the Clean Water SRF program was created in 1987, the authors understood states and localities are the experts in addressing their own clean water infrastructure challenges. By setting up loan programs, states and localities would be able to leverage more financial resources for decades to come, much easier than relying on direct appropriations.
So it is important that we maintain and abide by the intent of this longstanding loan structure to continue responsibly addressing wastewater infrastructure needs decades into the future. To divert more and more of these funds to grants will make the program unsustainable and in the end help no one.
The current set-asides for grants and grant substitutes passed in IIJA will ultimately be harmful to the program, slowly draining the funds states have been able to leverage for decades under the traditional low-interest loan structure. When combined with unfunded mandates and burdensome regulations driving up baseline costs, it puts the long-term viability of the Clean Water SRF in question.
Wastewater infrastructure is incredibly important for my constituents and those of every member of Congress. The Clean Water SRF is a great example of good public policy that helps keep wastewater costs down and provides reliable service for many communities and ratepayers around the country. In order to maintain a good clean water infrastructure well into the future, a robust and effective program will be key.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how we can improve our clean water infrastructure, protect against environmental degradation, keep wastewater costs low for ratepayers, and address the challenges brought about by recent legislative changes surrounding the Clean Water SRF program.
Click here for more information from today’s hearing, including video and witness testimony.