May 06, 2020

Co-Chairs of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus Highlight EJ Wins in Water Infrastructure Bills


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, after the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee favorably reported America’s Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2020 and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 out of the committee, U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) – co-founders of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus along with U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) – highlighted how these bipartisan bill wills help to ensure that the benefits of water infrastructure improvements are felt equitably across the country. Across the country, low-income communities, communities of color and indigenous communities face severe disparities in water-related infrastructure maintenance and improvement, as well as significant water contamination. Combined, the two bills reported out of the EPW committee today will authorize the investment of more than $18 billion in water resource development projects across the country.

The Declaration of Independence promises every American the unalienable rights of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ But, certainly, none of those things are possible without access to clean water; you cannot have life without clean water to drink. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of that, too, and just how important it is to have access to soap and clean water to wash hands – a simple yet effective way to prevent the spread of this deadly disease. Many communities still lack access to clean water entirely, with harmful contamination in their groundwater or water supply pipes. This disparity usually goes hand in hand with economic opportunity. You cannot ‘pursue happiness’ without the opportunity afforded by water infrastructure projects, which help to facilitate commerce, create jobs and support economic growth,” Senator Carper said. “From making investments in smaller, rural and disadvantaged communities to improving the cost-benefit process within the Army Corps of Engineers, these two bills will help in our ongoing work to ensure that every American in every zip code has clean water and economic opportunity.”

Regardless of zip code, skin color or wallet size, every American has the right to drink clean, safe water,” said Senator Duckworth. “I’m proud to have worked with my fellow co-founders of the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus, Senators Carper and Booker, as well as other members of the committee to make sure these bills provide resources and funding for small, rural and disadvantaged communities that will help protect and improve their access to clean drinking water. As our nation continues to mitigate the challenges of the COVID-19 public health crisis, it’s critical we make sure all Americans can rely on the basic right to drink clean and safe water.

Specifically, the bipartisan America’s Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2020 and Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 will:

Improve Access to Safe Drinking Water

The Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 promotes access to clean drinking water and improves water quality monitoring in communities across the country. The bill increases funding for the existing Assistance for Small and Disadvantaged Communities grant program and creates an additional competitive grant program for states based on the prevalence of underserved communities within their borders. Combined, these initiatives authorize $560 million for small, rural, and disadvantaged communities over the next four years.

The Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 also authorizes significant resources for communities facing existing and emerging contaminants, including sources of water pollution.  The bill includes $300 million in grants to assist in the remediation of drinking water and groundwater contamination caused by emerging contaminants, with a focus on perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The bill also makes a number of updates to existing programs and establishes new funding for programs to reduce lead in drinking water, authorized at more than $100 million.

Invest in Wastewater Infrastructure

Many low-income communities and communities of color across the U.S. lack access to basic sewage systems. AWIA 2020 authorizes $90 million annually in new grant programs for nonprofit organizations and public treatment works to help low- and moderate-income households connect to existing wastewater infrastructure or install or upgrade decentralized wastewater systems.

AWIA 2020 also reauthorizes the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF) at increased levels for the first time since 1987, growing the program to $3 billion annually over three years. It also requires states to use 10 percent of their CWSRF for direct grants, negative interest loans, and loan forgiveness, which will result in additional assistance to small and disadvantaged communities.

Leverage Army Corps of Engineers Programs to Help Communities in Need

For some communities, especially those with low-income and aging populations, coming up with funds to provide a local cost share for a flood control project is simply not within reach. To address this need, AWIA 2020 establishes several cost share waiver programs for small or disadvantaged communities throughout multiple Corps programs. These waivers will allow underserved communities that could otherwise not afford these projects to have up to 100 percent of the cost of the project covered by the federal government. The bill also allows the Army Corps Secretary to recommend projects, during the work plan development process, in small, disadvantaged, or rural communities that have local benefits, leveling the playing field for projects that are too often sidelined for larger construction initiatives.

Reduce Harmful Emissions at Ports and Waste Water Treatment Facilities

Low-income families and communities tend to be disproportionately impacted by large volumes of air pollutants. This is especially true near our nation’s ports, where exposure to air pollutants is linked to higher rates of serious health problems, including asthma, lung and heart disease, and other respiratory ailments. To address these concerns, AWIA 2020 provides $40 million to reduce emissions from waterborne vessels at ports. Additionally, the bill establishes a $35 million program at EPA to fund waste-to-energy systems at wastewater treatment plants to improve energy efficiency and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions – resulting in reduced human health impacts on surrounding communities.

Help Communities Build Resiliency to Extreme Weather Events

AWIA 2020 and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 provide a combined $35 million annually for Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Grant Programs, which award grants to small and medium sized communities to increase the resiliency or adaptability of water systems to natural hazards, such as intensified weather events due to climate change.

Codify EPA’s “EJScreen” Tool and Invest in New and Emerging Technology

AWIA 2020 requires the EPA Administrator to maintain and update “EJScreen,” or a comparable public environmental justice mapping and screening tool. Based on national environmental and demographic data, this tool is an essential part of environmental justice communities' ability to stay informed.

Invest in the Water Infrastructure Needs of Tribal Communities

AWIA 2020 provides additional assistance to Indian tribes by reauthorizing the Indian Irrigation Fund through 2030, including the $35 million annual authorization for the repair, replacement and maintenance of Indian irrigation projects. It also allows the Corps to adjust the costs of a project for inflation, which are already covered at 100 percent federal expense. Finally, the bill requires the Corps to complete a previously authorized study on the agency’s policies, regulations and guidance related to consultation with Indian tribes on water resources development projects that impact tribal cultural or natural resources.

The Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 amends the Tribal Drinking Water Program to extend the program through 2024. It also increases the authorization of the pilot program to $50 million and designates 50 percent of the funds be used by tribes nationally, while the other 50 percent of the funds must be used to fund 30 projects equally divided between the Missouri River Basin, Upper Rio Grande River Basin and the Columbia River Basin.