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Schumer Presses for Passage of Water Infrastructure Bill

April 27, 2021 by TWN Staff
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer urged his colleagues to swiftly pass the sweeping water infrastructure bill that came before the chamber Tuesday, calling it a potential starting point for Democrats and Republicans to collaborate on infrastructure, “when and where we can.”

“This bill is as non-controversial as it gets.,” Schumer said on the floor of the Senate Tuesday morning.

The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 authorizes more than $35 billion for water resource development projects across the country with a focus on upgrading aging infrastructure, addressing the threat of climate change, investing in new technologies, and providing assistance to marginalized communities.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., Tom Carper, D-Del., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., last month and it has since garnered the unanimous approval of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In addition, said Schumer, the bill is a core component of the $568 billion Republican infrastructure proposal released last week.

If enacted, the legislation would:

  • Invest significantly in small, disadvantaged, rural, and tribal communities through grant programs that promote environmental justice.
  • Provide states with increased funding and program flexibilities to invest in community water projects that address aging infrastructure and improve water quality through the State Revolving Loan Funds.
  • Connect households to public water and wastewater services, decentralized wastewater services, and improve sanitation in Alaskan rural and native villages.
  • Increase investments in lead abatement through grant programs and assistance.
  • Promote resiliency projects to address the impacts of climate change.
  • Increase investment to address recruitment, training, and retention challenges facing the water and wastewater utility workforce.
  • Invest in the drinking water and wastewater needs of tribal communities.
  • Provide significant investments in technical assistance and new and emerging technologies that result in cleaner, safer, and more reliable water.

In addition, more than 40% of the $35 billion total would be directly used to benefit small, disadvantaged, rural, and tribal communities through additional subsidization from the State Revolving Loan Funds or direct grant programs.

“Every American has a right to clean water—no matter their zip code, the color of their skin or the size of their income,” said Duckworth, the bill’s lead author, in a written statement. “From permanent brain damage from drinking water contaminated with lead, to overflowing sewage, Americans across the country are now experiencing what happens when our drinking water and wastewater systems age into a state of disrepair.

“Rebuilding our water infrastructure must be at the heart of the ongoing ‘Build Back Better’ efforts because we will have missed a huge opportunity to improve American lives if we only fix our roads, but fail to repair and upgrade the pipes beneath them,” she continued. “It’s clear that the lack of investments in our water infrastructure has led to a public health crisis and we have to do more to stop it, which is why I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that will help us do that.”

Schumer said Carper, Duckworth and Cardin were still engaged in discussions with Republican colleagues about possible amendments.

“But let me be very clear: the Senate must conclude its work on the water infrastructure bill before the end of the week,” he said.

“This is not a controversial bill or a complicated new program. In too many communities, access to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water is not a guarantee,” Schumer said. “Surely we can all agree that, in America, clean drinking water should be a fundamental guarantee. The Senate must take the first, necessary steps to invest in communities with aging water infrastructure by passing this bill. And we must do so this week.”

Julian Gonzalez, legislative counsel for Earthjustice’s Healthy Communities program said communities of color are the most likely to be afflicted with crumbling infrastructure, unaffordable water rates, and lack of access to safe water and indoor plumbing, due to a legacy of federal disinvestment and racist policies.

“This bipartisan legislation is an important first step to ensure communities impacted most by old and inadequate water infrastructure receive the investments their communities have been owed for decades,” he said.

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