The Power of Advocacy: Highway Bill Provisions Benefit Water and Wastewater

Dec. 8, 2015

On Dec. 3, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act by votes of 359-65 and 83-16, respectively, and President Obama subsequently signed the bill into law on Dec. 4. Though it focuses on transportation and highways, the bill contains two provisions of particular interest to the water and wastewater industry.

First, it removes a paragraph in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 that prevented 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. This language placed unnecessary restrictions on funding and would have made it more difficult for critical water projects to move forward.

Second, the bill reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) through fiscal year 2019. EXIM is an independent Executive Branch agency that supports U.S. jobs by facilitating the export of goods and services through funding assistance when private-sector lenders are unable or unwilling to provide financing. It helps level the playing field for U.S. companies engaged in international commerce and has provided an important tool for U.S. water and wastewater technology providers selling abroad. What’s more, EXIM generates money that actually helps to reduce the federal deficit. Over the past 20 years, it has generated nearly $7 billion more than the cost of its operations.

The Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA), along with numerous other organizations, worked hard to advocate for these two outcomes. WWEMA members wrote letters and contacted their congressional delegations in an excellent example of constituents educating their representatives on Capitol Hill of the real-world impact of legislation.

Advocacy works. If you do not currently belong to an association dedicated to advocating on the behalf of the water industry, do some research and find an association that fits your needs and interests. If you do currently belong, find ways to participate and contribute.

In an industry as highly regulated and dependent on public funding as water and wastewater, the importance of strong, coordinated advocacy efforts cannot be overstated. And in a time when our nation’s leaders are inundated with conflicting messages from special interest groups, the ability to combine forces with like-minded water groups as well as other influential business and manufacturing organizations can mean the difference between success and failure. With a resource as precious as water, in the words of NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, “Failure is not an option.”

Vanessa M. Leiby is executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that has represented the interests of manufacturers serving the water supply and wastewater treatment industry since 1908. Leiby can be reached at [email protected].