White House Slashes EPA Funding While House Democrats Propose $50 Billion for Clean Water

(February 12, 2020) – Two opposing messaging proposals for water infrastructure were unveiled in recent weeks.

First, on January 29th the Chairs of 3 US House Committees that hold jurisdiction over infrastructure issues released a policy framework for transforming U.S. infrastructure. The overall proposal, totaling $760 Billion, includes $50 Billion for the clean water sector. NACWA is pleased to see this recognition of the overall unmet needs of the water sector and supports a strong federal partnership on water.

The framework addresses a backlog in critical clean water needs, while also establishing a new $1 billion federal program to assist communities in addressing PFAS, among other funding initiatives. In addition, the plan would invest in affordability initiatives, resilience and green infrastructure.

While this is only a marker for House Democrats and not legislative language with a clear path forward, it is encouraging to see a written proposal of significant funding for specific programs that NACWA champions. However, NACWA staff anticipates that the House will continue working to advance its existing, more attainable infrastructure investment legislation over the remainder of this Congress, such as H.R. 1497 to reauthorize the CWSRF and other core water programs.

Second, on February 10th the White House released its Fiscal Year 2021 Proposed Budget. As in similar years, the Administration has proposed major cuts to US EPA alongside other federal agencies. Under this proposal, US EPA’s FY21 overall budget would drop 27 percent compared to FY20. Core water infrastructure investment programs, including the Drinking and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, would also drop by a similar percentage, and WIFIA would drop an even greater amount.

Bright spots in the White House’s proposal include an increase of EPA staff to advance PFAS efforts, and a similar staffing ramp up to address Harmful Algal Blooms, reflecting concern over these issues.

While the proposed cuts are dramatic, the Administration’s Budget Proposal has also become merely a messaging document that Congress largely refutes as it drafts its annual spending bills. Even among Republicans who strongly support this Administration, there is a continued sense that many of the proposed cuts are unreasonable or unpopular.

This back-and-forth on appropriate federal infrastructure investment underscores that federal funding will be a hot topic of debate throughout 2020. NACWA strongly encourages all utilities to consider joining the water sector during Water Week 2020 and the National Water Policy Fly-In to advocate for a strong annual spending package for water to pass into law this year.

NACWA will keep Members apprised of further developments. Please contact Kristina Surfus, Managing Director of Government Affairs with any questions or comments.