Click here or the image above to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled, “Implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA): Perspectives on the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (DWWIA).”
Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as delivered.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank all of you for being here today.
“I'd like to thank Assistant Administrator Fox for not just being here today but for the lines of communication that you've kept open as you promised in your hearing when you came before this committee, you’ve stayed true to your word. Certainly appreciate that from my perspective.
“I would also like to thank you for finally after many years of me banging the gavel and the gong and also with the chair to set that safe drinking level for PFAS. That's going to have many impacts across the country, but certainly safe, clean, and healthy water is at the top of the top of the list for all of us.
“This committee values your perspectives on the challenges, and other witnesses as well, facing this nation’s water infrastructure, as well as your insights on implementing the effective solutions to these challenges.\
“Today's hearing is focused on a topic that is of critical importance, and the chairman has covered much of this, to the health and wellbeing of our communities, our environment, and our economy: clean and efficient drinking water and wastewater systems.
“All Americans deserve this. They deserve to have reliable, affordable water and sanitation, which is why I am very proud of the bipartisan work of this committee that we accomplished last Congress to address America’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure investment backlog. It’s such a backlog.
“The DWWIA Act [Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act] was written by this committee, and is a key pillar of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and created new programs, opportunities, and support to address current water infrastructure needs and ongoing challenges in small, rural, and disadvantaged communities.
“In this hearing, we will explore the current state of our nation's water resources, the challenges that we face in protecting them, and how we can implement policies in the IIJA to help ensure that every person has access to clean drinking water.
“I look forward to hearing from our expert witnesses and engaging in a thoughtful and productive discussion on this crucial issue.
“The IIJA authorized $55 billion in funding, as the chairman said, the largest investment ever, for a range of water infrastructure programs, including grants for small and disadvantaged communities, funding for lead service line replacement, and support for innovative water technologies, as well as funding for wastewater treatment and storm water management.
“These funding opportunities provide new resources to address the current challenges facing our water infrastructure.
“Many communities, certainly in our states, are grappling with aging infrastructure that is in need of repair or replacement, while others are dealing with emerging contaminants like PFAS that require specialized treatment technologies.
“At the same time, small, rural, and disadvantaged communities often lack the resources and technical expertise needed to address these challenges, leaving us vulnerable to water quality problems and public health risks.
“IIJA programs offer a range of funding opportunities to help address these challenges, from grants and low-interest loans to technical assistance.
“These funds can support critical infrastructure upgrades, including the replacement of lead service lines, the construction of new treatment facilities, I’ve actually toured some of these as I think you have, and the implementation of advanced treatment technologies.
“Additionally, the funding can support capacity building initiatives, including workforce development. Every water system I go to is really down on the numbers of people that are interested in working in water, but also the retirements that we’re seeing across the board is really putting a strain on our system. So we need help there, we need to help communities build the expertise needed to manage and maintain their water systems, and quite frankly we need to get the next generation excited about this as an opportunity and a career of the future.
“Despite these significant funding [opportunities], ongoing unmet needs in small, rural, and disadvantaged communities remain a concern. As we said, they lack some of the technical expertise.
“As we work to implement and fund these programs, it will be important to ensure that the resources are targeted to the communities that need them most, and the necessary technical assistance and training programs to support their efforts.
“As the EPA begins to deploy these significant financial investments in our infrastructure, I have concerns with how the agency is planning to implement its directives from Congress. We were very explicit in our bills, I think.
“The Biden administration has prioritized its environmental justice agenda, but it has not been shy to pull in political factors that are unrelated to water quality and health, key conditions for how this money should be spent and even funding for states as it’s reviewed by the agency.
“I am concerned that projects will not be considered based solely on needs related to the explicit statutory directives of safeguarding human health, keeping rates affordable, and protecting the environment.
“While all of us support empowering communities through economic development, it important that we recognize that federal investments through the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act, as amended by the IIJA, should be directed to projects where the needs are most acute and in line with what Congress directed the agency to do in the statute.
“We shouldn’t be sidetracked from responsibly investing in our aging infrastructure because we have a historic bipartisan success here.
“Water systems do not align neatly with the administration’s efforts to use census tracts to define EJ communities or politicizing the distribution of funds. We’ve run into this in West Virginia in some of the definitions.
“Congress was clear: funding through the DWWIA programs should encourage state flexibility through funding pots like the SRFs and other grant programs should prioritize the need.
“Funds were firewalled between systems of various sizes to make sure that rural communities, small towns, and big cities all got their fair share without taking too big a slice of the pie.
“The EPA should implement these programs pursuant to the congressional intent, which resulted from some hard-fought bipartisan compromise.
“I am committed to working on these issues that are so important to me, the citizens of West Virginia, and our country.
“I’ll close by saying what everyone in attendance today already knows: water infrastructure investments are critical to public health, environmental health, and economic development.
“I want to see these investments create a better quality of life, create more jobs, and drive the kind of quality of shared health benefits that we all care about.
“I also want to welcome in the next panel, Kathy Emery from the great state of West Virginia and also Raleigh County. And she is here with her husband Roy, her son Taylor, who goes to West Virginia University and her other son is a graduate student at West Virginia University as well.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
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