By Scott Berry, Director of Policy and Government Affairs, US Water Alliance

May 27, 2021

After last month’s release of the American Jobs Plan, which calls for $111 billion in water infrastructure investment, water is still in the spotlight. While the Biden Administration has not yet received Republican support for what is now his $1.7 trillion infrastructure proposal, Senator Manchin (D-WV) has asked for more time to help build a bipartisan package and Senate Republicans are slated to announce a new counteroffer close to $1 trillion. However, Speaker Pelosi indicated that an infrastructure package could be brought to the House floor before the July 4th holiday, making bipartisan compromise in the House very unlikely.

As part of the process to develop this infrastructure package, many water-oriented bills are moving forward in the House of Representatives. On May 25, the House Subcommittee on Environmental and Climate Change of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on “Legislation to Ensure Drinking Water is Safe and Clean” featuring 10 bills introduced this session of Congress.

One of these bills is the “Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act of 2021” (HR 3293), introduced by Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and John Katko (R-NY). The Alliance has been closely involved in the development of this bipartisan bill. Endorsed by a broad coalition including the US Water Alliance, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), PolicyLink, Community Water Center, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, and the US Chamber of Commerce, the bill establishes permanent programs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help low-income households maintain access to clean drinking water and sanitation services.
The Alliance was active in aligning a diverse coalition of support for HR 3293 and in working with bill sponsors to craft the legislation text. Earlier this year, the Alliance launched its Recovering Stronger: A Federal Policy Blueprint, which emphasizes the need to make water more affordable and accessible, The Blueprint calls for a permanent drinking water and wastewater assistance programs to be funded in the annual appropriations process. Federal assistance programs for heat and energy as well as nutrition have been in operation for decades, but no such programs exist for drinking water and wastewater services. As the pandemic underscores the critical connection between water access and public health, lawmakers are seeing the urgent need for a permanent federally funded water assistance program.
And finally, this month the Alliance was intently watching the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee’s consideration of Acting Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox’s nomination to be Assistant Administrator of EPA for Water. Earlier this month, the Senate EPW Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Acting Assistant Administrator Fox (and others), where she pledged to “listen to all sides in order to find enduring solutions.” The EPW Committee held its confirmation vote a few weeks later, on May 26. Fox was favorably approved by the Committee 14-6, drawing support from all ten Committee Democrats and four Republicans. Fox’s nomination now moves forward for consideration by the full Senate.