Chairman Carper’s Opening Statement: Hearing on the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund Formula

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Today, we are here to discuss an important topic: the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. To those who aren’t familiar, this is one of the primary programs in our country for financing water infrastructure projects. Specifically, this program funds the construction of wastewater treatment facilities.

“To better inform our conversation, we have an excellent panel of witnesses joining us today. Ms. Dreyfuss-Wells, Mr. Sigmund, Mr. Ramseur, and Ms. Watson — welcome to the EPW Committee.

Before we dive into the topic of our hearing, I think it’s important to mention how we got here.

“As you may recall, last year, this committee worked in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way to draft the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, legislation that included historic investments in our state revolving funds. That bill passed out of this committee unanimously, and later out of the full Senate by a vote of 89-2. Those of us on this committee are no strangers to the fact that most legislation doesn’t receive overwhelming bipartisan support in today’s Senate. Our water infrastructure bill was an exception.

“This bill, along with our committee’s historic, bipartisan highway legislation, served as the cornerstone of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Biden signed into law last November.

“Thanks in large part to our committee’s efforts, the Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of distributing $55 billion to improve drinking water and wastewater systems in communities across the country. This is the single largest investment in water infrastructure in our nation’s history. As President Biden likes to say, it’s a big deal.

“During consideration of our drinking water and wastewater bill in the Senate last year, Senator Capito and I made a commitment to Senator Kelly and Senator Rubio that we would hold a hearing examining the formula for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. Today’s hearing is our opportunity to begin to better understand what changes, if any, should be made to improve the distribution of funds under this program.

“Specifically, I look forward to a robust discussion on the current formula that EPA uses to distribute funding to states and territories, and how that formula may be improved to strengthen equity and address unmet needs.

“For me, investing in clean water is personal. I was born in Beckley, West Virginia, a coal-mining town in the southern part of the state. For two of the six years that our family resided in the Mountain State, we lived alongside a stream known as Beaver Creek. Sometimes, my sister, Sheila, and I — along with other kids in our small community — would play on the banks of the creek and try to catch small fish from it. But, we were never allowed to eat the fish we caught there. 

“That is because nearby the septic tanks were not well maintained and, as a result, raw sewage and other pollution would seep into the creek. At the time, our situation was not too different from many other small communities across the country.

“Several years later, after graduating from the Ohio State University, I deployed with my squadron to Southeast Asia as a naval flight officer. In 1969 — shortly before I arrived there — I learned that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, had caught on fire. This fire heard around the world served as a wake-up call for our nation to get serious about addressing pollution. Congress responded by enacting the Clean Water Act in 1972.

“In the years that followed, communities across our country applied for grant funding to help build, or upgrade, wastewater treatment systems. 

“Over time, grant requests greatly exceeded the funding available. During the Reagan administration, a new controversial approach emerged — the creation of revolving loan funds administered and managed by each state. After becoming law in 1987, these funds were periodically modified in annual spending bills to meet changing needs and increased demands for resources.

“In more recent years, however, these programs had languished with the authorizations for state revolving loan funds in dire need of updating.

“That is why I, along with our Ranking Member, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Senator Duckworth, Senator Lummis, Senator Cardin, and Senator Cramer, joined forces to address this need in the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act. Our legislation reauthorized and increased the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund for the first time in nearly 35 years.

“With the recent passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have an opportunity to build on this work and improve the way we invest in our nation’s infrastructure. That includes having more in-depth conversations about the Clean Water State Revolving Fund formula and what we might consider updating in the program. More could certainly be done to adapt the formula for changes in climate, population, and infrastructure age.

“So, as I said at the outset, let’s use this hearing today to gain a deeper understanding of all of the factors in the current Clean Water State Revolving Fund formula, and examine opportunities for making that distribution as equitable as possible.”