Cardin seeks to hike fed­eral spend­ing for bet­ter drink­ing wa­ter

The Enquire-Gazette - - News - By JOELLE LANG Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

WASH­ING­TON — In the af­ter­math of the lead poi­son­ing cri­sis in Flint, Mich., Mary­land Sen. Ben Cardin (D) is try­ing pro­tect oth­ers from drink­ing con­tam­i­nated wa­ter by boost­ing fed­eral spend­ing for wa­ter sys­tem im­prove­ments na­tion­wide.

“Amer­i­cans have a right to ex­pect that wa­ter com­ing from their taps is safe to drink,” Cardin said in a state­ment. “We can no longer de­lay needed up­grades to our in­fras­truc­ture, strength­en­ing drink­ing wa­ter pro­tec­tions and for­ever get­ting lead and other con­tam­i­nants out of pub­lic wa­ter sup­plies.”

Cardin in­tro­duced four bills in the Se­nate Feb. 25 with the goal of speed­ing up fixes to the country’s wa­ter sys­tems and im­prov­ing lead test­ing.

Cardin said that his leg­is­la­tion is im­por­tant for Mary­land res­i­dents be­cause the state sees the con­se­quences of ag­ing and de­cay­ing wa­ter in­fras­truc­ture daily.

“In Mary­land there’s a wa­ter main break ev­ery­day,” Cardin said. “The con­di­tions of our wa­ter pipes are not that dif­fer­ent [than those in Flint]. We need to mod­ern­ize our wa­ter sys­tem.”

One bill, known as the “FUND Wa­ter Act,” would in­crease fund­ing for two fed­eral-state part­ner­ships that sup­port pro­grams aimed at pro­tect­ing drink­ing wa­ter and sources of clean wa­ter.

The pro­posed bud­get for fis­cal year 2017 cut fund­ing for one pro­gram, the Clean Wa­ter State Re­volv­ing Fund, by 29.7 per­cent, and in­creased the other pro­gram, the Drink­ing Wa­ter State Re­volv­ing Fund, by 18.2 per­cent. The in­crease was made pos­si­ble by cut­ting the first fund, ac­cord­ing to Cardin’s of­fice.

Af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased its pro­posed fis­cal 2017 fed­eral bud­get last month, Cardin, who is a se­nior mem­ber of the Se­nate En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, spoke out against cut­ting wa­ter funds.

“It is ir­re­spon­si­ble to steal from one fund to give to the other,” Cardin said in a state­ment Feb. 9. “Ro­bust fund­ing for both of th­ese wa­ter funds, like in the days of the Amer­i­can Re­cov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act, is the best way to elim­i­nate prob­lems in Flint, Mich., and else­where around the country where chil­dren and com­mu­ni­ties are be­ing poi­soned by lead and other pol­lu­tants in their wa­ter.”

Fi­nan­cial sup­port for the Clean Wa­ter State Re­volv­ing Fund has been de­clin­ing for the past few years. In 2014, the pro­gram re­ceived $1.4 bil­lion. It re­mained the same in 2015, but was re­duced in fis­cal 2016 and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is propos­ing to re­duce it to nearly $980 mil­lion in fis­cal 2017.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, the country will need to in­vest $655 bil­lion over the next 20 years in or­der to fix the na­tion’s ag­ing wa­ter sys­tems. That would av­er­age around $32.75 bil­lion ev­ery year.

Cardin’s bill is aim­ing to triple the ap­pro­pri­a­tions for fis­cal 2017 to $8.3 bil­lion for both wa­ter pro­grams and in­crease fund­ing by 15 per­cent ev­ery year in or­der to get closer to the EPA goal. Cur­rently, the U.S. is spend­ing un­der $2 bil­lion a year on th­ese pro­grams com­bined.

“Un­der­fund­ing of our vi­tal wa­ter and waste­water in­fras­truc­ture is an is­sue we sim­ply can­not ig­nore,” the senator said. “Pipes may be out of sight, but they can­not be out of mind.”

“We ur­gently need to min­i­mize the risks to our com­mu­ni­ties and our chil­dren,” Cardin added.

A sec­ond Cardin bill would pro­vide grants to re­duce lead in wa­ter sup­plies and de­liv­ery sys­tems. An­other bill would re­quire that the EPA im­prove its test­ing and re­port­ing meth­ods for cop­per and lead lev­els in wa­ter.

Yet an­other mea­sure would re­quire states to re­port high lev­els of lead in blood to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

Cardin said he would like to see more chil­dren be­ing tested for lead poi­son­ing.

“Clean wa­ter is one of the most ba­sic foun­da­tions of our daily lives — we ig­nore its safe stor­age and de­liv­ery at our own peril,” he said. “Un­for­tu­nately, for too long we have over­looked the need to in­vest in this key as­pect of our fu­ture, and chil­dren in com­mu­ni­ties like Flint are the ones be­ing made to suf­fer most.”

Cardin said that he ex­pects the bills to gain bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get pro­posal has been crit­i­cized by some en­vi­ron­men­tal groups as short-sighted.

Mae Wu, an at­tor­ney with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, wrote in a blog post last month that “cut­ting funds that help keep pol­lu­tion out of our wa­ter...and mov­ing the money to re­move pol­lu­tion once it’s al­ready in our drink­ing wa­ no so­lu­tion at all.”

“At best it is a short-term band-aid ap­proach to ad­dress­ing the chronic lev­els of un­der­in­vest­ment in our wa­ter in­fras­truc­ture by lo­cal, state, and fed­eral govern­ment,” she said, adding the wa­ter funds need more money.

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