Labor and private sector can invest in essential infrastructure, together

June 12, 2023
Drinking Water State Revolving Fund low interest loans have accelerated infrastructure upgrades, but the Clean Water SRF is lagging. It is time to initiate funding parity.

Often an overlooked aspect of our community’s essential infrastructure is what happens to our wastewater after being flushed, drained, or otherwise disposed of from our homes and businesses. America’s community wastewater systems and the highly trained individuals who manage them work behind the scenes treating sewage, preventing contamination of water sources and the environment, and creating a barrier against disease to protect public health.

In communities across the country, these wastewater treatment systems are reaching the end of their lifespan, putting families’ health and the environment at risk.

Strain on existing wastewater infrastructure

In 2021, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure issued our nation’s wastewater systems the trouble grade of D+, highlighting the strain that growing urban environments are putting on existing facilities and the impact of reduced revenues on utilities serving vulnerable communities.

These systems require significant investment in sustainable infrastructure that creates community-supporting jobs for the hardworking men and women maintaining basic sanitary services, for all of us.

At the heart of this work is the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), representing 45,000 workers in electric, gas and water utility sectors in every corner of the country, and American Water, as the largest regulated water and wastewater utility in the United States and the employer of over 3,100 union employees. 

Together, we are pooling our power to push for parity in access to the low-interest loans administered by the Environmental Protection Agency’s state revolving funds (SRF).

Lacking parity for Clean Water SRFs

Investment in the resiliency and renewal of our nation’s drinking water treatment and distribution system is deemed so critical that the EPA allows for any and all water providers to access low-interest loans to modernize their water systems, enabling the savings to be passed on to customers by way of lower rates.

This funding stream has accelerated capital projects that protect our drinking water sources and meet stringent EPA water quality requirements for the health and safety of all who turn on their tap.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for wastewater system investment, despite sounding the alarm on the antiquated pipes that run in reverse – out from our homes and through our neighborhood streets.

Customers of regulated utilities like American Water contribute to federal and state taxes that support various SRF assistance programs. But without access to wastewater-focused clean water SRF funds, customers of private providers are unjustly excluded from the benefit of these lower-interest loans that customers of municipal and public systems may receive.

UWUA and American Water, along with state utility consumer advocates, administrators of state revolving funds, and utility commissions that enable investment while protecting customers’ interests support efforts in Congress to amend the eligibility provisions of the clean water SRF for all customers.

A bipartisan fix to this inequity is H.R. 250, the Clean Water SRF Parity Act, introduced by Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA) and Mike Bost (R-IL) and cosponsored by Representatives Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Donald Payne (D-NJ). Their support speaks to how impactful future wastewater investment can be when matched with skilled union employees who will get the job done. This bill would allow states to direct money towards distressed systems at a lower cost regardless of system ownership, just as they can under current law through the drinking water SRF program.

The power of low interest loans

Without parity across the EPA’s SRF low-interest loan program, Americans with the biggest need could face the largest gap in infrastructure investment – despite paying into the same programs that benefit their neighbors in surrounding communities – through no fault of their own.

It is the responsibility of all members of Congress to recognize the need for equal access to infrastructure investment funding, and by supporting the Clean Water SRF Parity Act, they can ensure that such investments are made equitably and affordably.

About the Author

James Slevin | National President Utility Workers Union of America

James T. Slevin is the national president for the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO.

About the Author

Cheryl Norton | Chief Operating Officer American Water

Cheryl Norton is the chief operating officer for American Water.

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