March 16, 2012

Infrastructure – To Repair or Ignore?

Posted on March 16, 2012 by Joseph Manko

With significant funding in 2010 under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (“ARRA”), a major financial stimulus was afforded the water and wastewater industry to “go green.”  Although many large urban areas decided to address their combined sewer overflow (“CSO”) problems by replacing their existing sewage systems with separate systems, many others opted to construct “green infrastructure” to detain and/or retain the surcharge from rainstorms that could overwhelm operation of wastewater treatment plants and result in the discharge of sewage and other pollutants from CSOs.  In Pennsylvania, a $30 million loan was extended to the City of Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This loan enabled the City, which had signed a Consent Order and Agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, to implement a green infrastructure program over a 20 year period.  

With the economic recession and major changes in the composition (and philosophies) of the members in both Houses of Congress from the 2010 elections, not only did the prospect of future similar economic stimuli programs go to the “back of the bus”, but the desire of these new members of Congress to reduce spending put increased pressure on the federal government to reduce the funding of any infrastructure improvements.  

A good example of this can be seen in the President’s proposed budget issued on February 13, calling for a proposed EPA budget of $8.3 billion. This reflects a decrease of 1.2 percent below the fiscal 2012 enacted level.  More pertinent to the water and wastewater industry, the proposed cuts included a 19.8 percent reduction (from $1.47 billion to $1.18 billion) in EPA’s budget for the Clean Water State Revolving Funds, and a 7.4% reduction (from $918 million to $850 million) in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.  Similar budget cuts occurred in most, if not all, of the states’ share of infrastructure funding.  With dire predictions associated with the Nation’s failure to maintain all of its infrastructure, one may recall the plot in “Atlas Shrugged” where the nation’s infrastructure failed and those who were its leaders “disappeared”.  Recall the query “Who is John Galt?”

As a result, we environmental attorneys find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma.  On the one hand, we are trying to adapt our infrastructure to climate change, foster the use of cleaner and more efficient energy in operating treatment plants, and conserve water. On the other hand, we face the reality of having to represent an industry with an infrastructure that is largely old and outdated and appears, at least in some cases, ready to fail. These failures will no doubt result in more and more violations of the Clean Water Act (and state water laws) in the future.  

Although funding cutbacks are not yet “carved in stone”, it would be wise for us to keep an eye on the budget debates. They may affect our practices in the near term and our environment as well.   

Tags: wastewatergreen buildings


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