Water Part of Infrastructure, Pruitt Tells Mayors

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By Amena H. Saiyid and Sylvia Carignan

Scott Pruitt told the nation’s mayors he has a message for the White House: Don’t forget storm drains, tunnels, sewers, pipes, service lines and treatment plants when looking to improve infrastructure.

The newly confirmed EPA administrator said in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors that he recognizes the need to include water as part of Trump’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure package. He is participating in President Donald Trump’s infrastructure team on the afternoon of March 2.

“We will talk about how to include water infrastructure along with roads and bridges,” Pruitt told the nation’s mayors, as he outlined the agency’s priorities.

“We know we have a water infrastructure issue,” Pruitt said, adding that “we know that when it goes wrong, it goes wrong badly.”

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represent publicly owned wastewater and stormwater utilities, was pleased with Pruitt’s support for water infrastructure “on par with other infrastructure sectors like highways, bridges, and airports.”

“We need the federal government to be a full partner in supporting our water infrastructure, which will create jobs and improve public health and the environment,” said Adam Krantz, the association’s chief executive officer, adding that the partnership is vital for the upcoming budget discussion and any future infrastructure package.

Allaying Concerns

At the start of his talk, Pruitt attempted to allay concerns about reports that the White House is planning to propose cuts to the EPA state and tribal grants budget by 30 percent in fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.

He acknowledged that states and cities have relied upon the state revolving fund programs that municipalities use to improve water infrastructure, and EPA funds through state and tribal grants.

The state and tribal grants program also includes grants to remediate brownfield sites, and reduce air pollution in areas with the highest ozone and particulate matter levels. It also would include funding for the fledgling Water Infrastruture Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) that Congress created in 2014 to provide Treasury-backed credit for loans for water projects that cost at least $20 million. “I want to communicate a message that brownfields, the Superfund program, water infrastructure—the WIFIA grants, state revolving funds, are essential to protect,” said Pruitt, drawing a round of applause from the assembled mayors who stayed after breakfast to listen.

Pruitt reaffirmed his support for brownfields programs, which he termed a “tremendous success, but also committed the agency’s resources toward addressing the more than 1,300 Superfund sites across the country. “Some of those sites have been on the list for several decades. That just shouldn’t be.”

Benchmarks for Ozone Non-Attainment

On ozone attainment, Pruitt said he wants to hear from the mayors on how to set benchmarks to move past the 40 percent non-attainment across the country.

After his talk, Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Ind., asked Pruitt to urge the White House not to remove the exemption for municipal bonds that are used to finance water infrastructure. “This is critically important for us,” he said.Pruitt said he had not heard about that particular exemption in conversations with members of Congress, but would keep it in mind. He said the EPA was drawing up a document of water infrastructure needs that he would share with the nation’s mayors and the White House this afternoon.J. Christian Bollwage, mayor of Elizabeth, N.J., told Pruitt he would share success stories of brownfield site cleanups that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has culled together. Pruitt said he wanted to hear “more stories” about brownfields, but also about Superfund programs.

Funding Dogs Superfund Cleanups

Pruitt said the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management will identify obstacles that are preventing the remediation of these sites that would create jobs, benefit communities and protect environment as well.Local activists and representatives said hurdles to cleanup amount to a lack of funding.

Dan Serres, conservation director at Columbia Riverkeeper, is a member of the Hanford Advisory Board. The board keeps tabs on the cleanup work at the Department of Energy’s Hanford site, a Superfund site contaminated with radioactive waste from production operations decades ago.

“Hanford is thought of as this nuclear wasteland, but the Columbia River flows through 40 miles of it,” Serres said.

One of the EPA’s responsibilities at the site is to ensure cleanup actions protect the river, and the agency can’t afford to waver in the time or funding it provides, he said.

“There is going to have to be … a vigorous commitment to continuing the cleanup at Hanford. Without that, we’re going to see serious contamination problems worsen,” he said.

Without appropriate funding, Serres said federal agencies are choosing to leave contamination in place rather than thoroughly remove it. At the same time, remedial actions that are taken are delayed, he said.

“There’s regional consensus around cleaning up Hanford correctly, and doing it quickly, because the stakes are so high,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid and Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bna.com and asaiyid@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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