PORTLAND, Ore. -- Two water infrastructure bills that Congress failed to enact this year are certain to be high on the agenda of the new Republicanled Congress, a GOP congressional aide said here Monday.
Although it is not clear exactly where the two measures will fit on the Republicans' priority list, it is certain that the legislation to reauthorize the two environmental programs that aid states and localities "will take an elevated position" next year, said Benjamin Grumbles, minority counsel to the House Public Works and Transportation Committee' s water resources and environment subcommittee.
Until the Democrats lost control of Congress, most staff members thought the wastewater treatment and drinking water treatment bills "would take a back-burner position to other environmental legislation" such as flow control, Grumbles told the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities' annual conference on state revolving loan funds that was meeting here.
Both measures contain revolving loan programs that are strongly supported by states. The sewage treatment measure would reauthorize the existing state revolving loan program, while the drinking water legislation would create a new revolving loan program.
States use the revolving loan funds to leverage their federal dollars by issuing tax-exempt bonds that help finance wastewater treatment plants. The drinking water bill, if reauthorized, would create a revolving loan fund program for drinking water treatment facilities.
The revolving loan programs have enjoyed bipartisan support and will not deter reauthorization of the water bills, Grumbles said. On the contrary, he said, it is the revolving funds and the possible reprogramming of the money set aside for the funds that will compel Congress to pass at least the drinking water measure, because it will create a new revolving loan fund.
If the drinking water revolving loan fund program is not authorized by Aug. 1 of next year, the Environmental Protection Agency may be required to reprogram the $700 million set aside in fiscal 1995 to the wastewater treatment loan program, said Mike Quigley, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's municipal support division.
The same fate could be in store for the $600 million set aside in fiscal 1994, he said.
"There are some real dangers to not having an authorization [for the water infrastructure legislation] in place because you lose control over the future of the program and the revolving funds could revert to an earmarked construction grants type of approach," Grumbles said.
The pressure will be on in the next Congress to jump start at least the drinking water revolving loan program, Quigley said. The EPA will submit the same financing proposals as last year and is prepared to move forward on reauthorization of either water infrastructure bill as soon as Congress is ready, he said.
The contentious issues that held back both the wastewater and drinking water treatment bills in the last Congress will still be there next year, but the incoming Republican leadership supports the financing method in both bills and will work to get them passed, Grumbles said.
When the incoming Republican leadership decides to reopen the debate on the water infrastructure bills, they are likely to attempt to weaken some of the environmental statutes several key Democrats fought for during last year's debates, as well as tackle private property rights issues, said James N. Smith, executive director of the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities.
Attempts to reduce environmental regulatory burdens will meet little opposition in a Republican-led Congress, especially since last year there was a bipartisan "acknowledgement that environmental regulations in the past 10 years have amounted to an overreach," Smith said.
Any measures aimed at protecting private property rights come under a category in the legislation that detractors call the "unholy trinity," Grumbles said. The trio's other two components are the question of unfunded federal mandates and attempts to assess risk to a community before requiring it to engage in costly testing and treatment procedures. The three issues will be integral to any reauthorization, he said.