Last week, President Obama sent his last budget to Capitol Hill outlining his proposed priorities for federal spending as he leaves office, including spending on environmental priorities. The budget document was released as Washington’s focus was transfixed on the on-going public health tragedy in Flint, Michigan related to lead contamination of its drinking water, and on increased concerns over the general state of the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure. The Administration’s budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 could not have been a greater disappointment by requesting a dramatic cut to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program of over $414 million – for an Administration that has tried to make clean water a centerpiece of its legacy, this spending cut was indeed surprising.
While the Administration proposes to increase spending to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Program (DWSRF), the proposed increase is only $158 million, a fraction of the hit to the CWSRF. While one could argue that the drinking water crisis in Flint justifies shifting resources from one fund to the other, the Administration’s budget blueprint proposes an overall shift of $250 million away from water infrastructure investments altogether. Congress must reject these cuts.
The proposed cut to the CWSRF program is especially difficult to understand in the context of a proposed increase for the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of $127 million, which means that the Administration is requesting $541 million additional direct spending for environmental programs other than for clean water projects funded by the Clean Water SRF. Not only does the Administration’s spending proposal arrive as the nation is undergoing a drinking water catastrophe, it arrives two weeks after EPA released its most recent Clean Water Needs Survey which pegs total current clean water infrastructure needs facing our communities at nearly $300 billion.
NACWA is urging all its members to weigh in with Congress to urge them to reject the Administration’s proposed CWSRF cuts and to restore spending to one of the few programs with a proven track record of helping communities deal with their water quality challenges.