The $1.2 trillion amount recently adopted Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act is the largest ever federal investment in air and water quality and will go a long way to improving drinking water infrastructure and protecting drinking water from unregulated toxic chemicals.
However, almost halfway through the fiscal year, Congress failed to complete the job and provide the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies with the funding they needed. needed to effectively implement the bipartisan infrastructure bill and carry out their other critical work. .
As EPA Administrator under President George HW Bush and a leading scientist, we have played a major role in past efforts to reduce pollution in the nation’s waterways and identify safe levels of toxic chemicals. in drinking water. We know full well how difficult it can be to fulfill agency responsibilities without the proper resources. A significant investment in the agency will be critical to successfully meeting Congress’ infrastructure goals.
Agencies are working with reduced staffing and the band-aid process of a “continuing resolution” that funds them month-to-month at pre-Infrastructure Bill levels. The last band aid is withdrawn Feb. 18, when the resolution continues to fund federal programs expires, leaving agencies underfunded unless Republicans step in and work with Democrats on appropriation bills that provide the resources needed to make the infrastructure bill work.
The EPA is especially strapped for resources as states, tribes and localities look to it for infrastructure grants and technical support. For decades, the EPA has initiated and administered many of the nation’s most successful grant and loan programs that have helped modernize water infrastructure.
Budget cuts and stagnant funding are hurting the agency
However, the agency endured years of budget cuts and stagnant funding. Today, the EPA has half the resources it had in 1980 with many more responsibilities. In addition to these reductions, the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative found the agency experienced a 7.4% drop in workforce— including a loss of more than 670 scientists — between 2016 and 2020, representing the greatest loss of any federal agency. Meanwhile, the EPA also suffered a 35.6% reduction in chemical safety research.
of President Biden 2022 budget calls for the addition of 1,000 new talented and diverse STEM graduates urgently needed to support the EPA’s mission even before the implementation of the new infrastructure bill. These investments are included in appropriation bills passed by the House and Senate proposals, but the budget impasse in the Senate threatens to leave the EPA vastly short-staffed as it grapples with new mandates. .
The infrastructure bill grants the EPA $60 billion, most of which is for water infrastructure, the largest federal investment in this area. It provides $24 billion in loans for wastewater and drinking water treatment plants, $15 billion in grants for the replacement of lead service lines, and $10 billion in grants for monitoring and treatment of unregulated contaminants in drinking water and wastewater.
The EPA urgently needs personnel to provide technical expertise to states, tribes, and communities to make the best use of these funds. Serious challenges related to deficient water quality and availability Rio Grand Valley of Texas, Central California farming communitiesand the Mojave and other Native American communities.
The agency’s technical assistance is also needed to maximize use of the $10 billion to clean up unregulated health-damaging contaminants like PFAS, a class of thousands of fluorinated chemicals found in drinking water. , fish and wildlife.
In the Michigan Community of Oscoda, for example, fire-fighting foam used at the nearby former Wurtsmith Air Force Base is the likely source of PFAS contamination of drinking water wells and locally caught fish and deer. Investigations found PFAS in 272 of 390 wells tested. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has issued advisories warning residents not to eat fish or deer caught in the area.
In the United States, more than 40,000 industrial chemicals are already in use, and new chemicals are introduced every year. State and federal governments rarely monitor these chemicals, and most have never been evaluated for toxicity. Industrial and municipal wastewater treatment systems are often not designed to reduce unregulated chemicals, so they enter waterways through direct discharges as well as agricultural and urban stormwater runoff. .
VIDEO: PFAS—The “Forever Chemicals”
Dependence on EPA
States and tribes depend on the EPA to develop analytical methods to detect these chemicals, assess their toxicity, recommend safe levels, and identify effective treatment technologies. They also depend on the EPA to restrict or ban high-risk chemicals like PFAS and prevent new ones from entering the market.
Without major hiring and significant budget increases, the EPA will struggle to provide the technical assistance needed to reduce exposure to PFAS and other unregulated chemicals. Congress cannot continue to pass continuous resolutions and assume that its historic investment in clean water will be effective. Congress must pass a FY22 budget that gives the EPA the tools it needs to deliver on the promise offered by the infrastructure bill.
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
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William K. Reilly is a former EPA Administrator, serving from 1989 to 1993, where he oversaw the implementation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. He also served as Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund and was appointed by the President Barack Obama as co-chair of the BP Deepwater Horizon National Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission to investigate the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He has served under four presidents, both Democrat and Republican, and is a powerful voice for bipartisanship on climate action.
Dr. Betsy Southerland worked for the EPA for 30 years, serving as director of science and technology in the agency’s Office of Water, before retiring in 2017. She remained active on the environmental issues as a member of the Environmental Protection Network and testifies regularly before Congress on issues of clean water, PFAS and unregulated emerging contaminants.