On Dec. 3, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act by votes of 359 to 65 and 83 to 16, respectively, and President Obama signed the bill into law on Dec. 4. Though it focuses on transportation and highways, the bill contains some provisions of particular interest to the water and wastewater industry.
The FAST Act removes a paragraph in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 that stopped cities from using tax-exempt municipal bonds to match U.S. Treasury-backed loans for up to 51% of project funding under the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA). According to the Water & Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers’ Assn., this language placed unnecessary restrictions on funding and would have made it more difficult for critical water projects to move forward.
California Rep. Jerry McNerney, too, applauded the water infrastructure fix in the bill.
“Lifting the tax-exempt municipal bond ban for WIFIA projects is a significant win and represents a long overdue investment in America’s crumbling infrastructure that will benefit millions of Americans,” McNerney said in a press release. “Critical repairs to our aging water infrastructure would help us to better manage water shortages and respond to drought conditions that put pressure on our water supply. This fix will also benefit the economy through the hundreds of thousands of jobs created in building these water infrastructure projects.”
An estimated 7 billion gal per day of water are lost in the U.S. due to leaky pipe. Lifting the tax-exempt municipal bond ban for WIFIA projects will help get some projects up and running.
The bill also reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) through fiscal year 2019. EXIM is an independent federal agency that fills gaps in private export finance in order to bolster U.S. job growth at no cost to taxpayers.
EXIM provides trade financing solutions—including export credit insurance, working capital guarantees and guarantees of commercial loans to foreign buyers—to empower exporters of U.S. goods and services. EXIM also has proven valuable for U.S. water and wastewater technology providers selling abroad.
What a positive start to the New Year, knowing that, as we roll up our sleeves and get back to work, critical infrastructure projects have received the boost they need to move forward. WWEMA and other organizations advocated for the positive water-related outcomes of the bill, so this success is an excellent reminder of the importance of a strong, collective industry voice. Happy New Year, everyone. Make some noise.