Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a field hearing to examine the unique challenges that small, disadvantaged, and rural communities face in accessing and maintaining wastewater services.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Today, we are joined by an excellent panel of witnesses: Mr. Roberts, Mr. Morgan, and Mr. Grinstead. Thank you all for being here to discuss the challenges facing wastewater infrastructure, particularly those confronting small, rural, and disadvantaged communities.
“Let me start by saying it is good to be back in Beckley. For those who don’t know, I was born in the Mountain State, right here in Beckley. When I was young, my sister Sheila and I—along with other kids in the community—would play on the banks of Beaver Creek near our home. While we would try to catch small fish from the creek, we were never allowed to eat what we caught.
“In time, we learned the reason why our parents told us it was unsafe to do so. Some of the nearby septic tanks that residents relied upon were not well maintained. As a result, raw sewage and other pollution would seep into the creek.
“A lot has changed since then—Congress passed the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. And in the nearly 50 years since, we have made incredible progress in cleaning up our nation’s waterways and improving our treatment systems to prevent wastewater from ending up in our rivers and streams.
“Despite this progress, far too many communities around our country continue to struggle with outdated wastewater systems. Our twentieth-century infrastructure can’t keep up with twenty-first-century threats like climate-related extreme weather.
“These challenges are well documented. Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers puts out a report card assessing the state of our infrastructure.
“The grades have not been great lately. In its 2021 report card, our wastewater treatment facilities received a grade of D-plus as a nation, underscoring the need to upgrade these services across the country, particularly in states like West Virginia and Delaware.
“I don’t think any of us take pride in that grade. We can and must do better. Every household—be it a family in Appalachia or one in rural Georgia—should have the peace of mind that when they flush the toilet, their waste won’t end up polluting the community they call home.
“Yet far too many towns and municipalities struggle to attain the resources and capital needed to modernize their wastewater systems. We must find a better way, and that’s where Congress comes into the equation.
“Earlier this year, Senator Capito and I got to work on drafting the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act. After leading Senate passage of this bill by a vote of 89-2—let me repeat that—89-2—our bill became a foundational piece of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that we passed in the Senate over the summer. Now, we are working with our colleagues in the House to send this massive bipartisan compromise to the president’s desk.
“Our bipartisan bill invests more than $35 billion in water resource development projects across the country, directly targeting the communities with the most need. To put it simply—our bill is good for West Virginia.
“First, our bill provides $14.65 billion to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which will help West Virginia finance a variety of community and state-wide water infrastructure projects.
“Next, it will also improve sanitation in rural areas. Our bill provides $780 million for connecting low-income households to wastewater services and provides up to $350 million for sewer overflow and stormwater reuse programs in rural and financially distressed communities.
“Finally, our bill includes $125 million for water infrastructure and resiliency programs in underserved communities, ensuring that our most vulnerable populations can adapt to and prepare for the impacts of growing threats like extreme weather.
“This legislation has earned praise across the political spectrum and from industry leaders as well. Why? Because investing in water infrastructure not only pays for itself. It also fosters economic growth.
“How’s this for a good deal: the Commerce Department says that every dollar in revenue spent on the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure industry leads to $2.62 in revenue for the rest of our economy. And, adding one job in the water and wastewater industry creates nearly four additional jobs for the economy overall.
“So, we have an opportunity to invest in cleaner, safer water for our communities, and get our economy moving at the same time. That’s a win-win in my book.
“Let me close by saying this—clean water is an essential part of healthy lives, healthy economies, and a healthy environment. We have a moral responsibility to act to ensure that our water is clean and safe to drink. And, we can do so in a way that powers our economy and creates good-paying American jobs.
“I look forward to getting this bill across the finish line and helping communities from Beckley, West Virginia to Ellendale, Delaware.”