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April 19, 2007 - ASCE Testimony by Casey Dinges - budgets of the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey for FY 2008

TESTIMONY OF
THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERIOR, ENVIRONMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES
OF THE
COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

APRIL 19, 2007 

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Tiahrt, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Good morning. I am Casey Dinges, the Managing Director for External Affairs for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). I am pleased to appear before the Subcommittee today to testify on behalf of ASCE to discuss key components of the proposed budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for Fiscal Year 2008.

At the outset, let me commend the Subcommittee for returning to the practice of hearing from outside witnesses on important national fiscal matters. These are very important hearings.

I. The Environmental Protection Agency

In February, Congress enacted a Continuing Resolution for FY 2007 that provided $1 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF). That represented an increase of $197.1 million over the president’s FY 2007 request and $100 million over the level enacted in FY 2006. The increase symbolizes a small step toward restoring the federal investment in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.

The president’s budget request for FY 2008, however, retreats and proposes a funding level of $687.5 million for the CWSRF. We believe such a request is wholly inadequate based on the demonstrated need for increased federal financial assistance.

The Subcommittee should appropriate not less than $1.5 billion for the CWSRF in FY 2008. 

The United States faces a growing crisis in the operation of wastewater treatment plants. Although the federal government has directly invested more than $80 billion in the construction of publicly owned sewage treatment works (POTWs) and their related facilities since passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the physical condition of many of the nation's 16,000 wastewater treatment systems is poor due to a lack of investment in plant, equipment, and other capital improvements over the years. The typical lifespan of wastewater equipment is 20 years, even when well maintained.

Nearly five years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a detailed gap analysis, which assessed the difference between current spending for wastewater infrastructure and total funding needs. The EPA Gap Analysis estimated that, over the next two decades, the United States must spend nearly $390 billion to replace antiquated wastewater infrastructure and to build new treatment plants (the total includes money for some projects not currently eligible for federal funds, which are not reflected in the EPA State Needs Survey).

In its “Clean Watersheds Needs Survey” (2000), EPA said that the nation needs to invest an estimated $181 billion (in 2000 dollars) to upgrade its aging wastewater treatment plants. That estimate was submitted to Congress in August 2003. We believe that the need is even greater today; unfortunately the agency will not issue its next comprehensive needs report until 2009, based on data to be collected in 2008.

Meanwhile, federal funding under the Clean Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) program has remained flat or declined sharply every year since 1995. Despite the impressive funding support provided in the 1970s and 1980s, federal assistance simply has not kept pace with the needs. Nevertheless, virtually every authority agrees that funding needs remain very high: the United States must invest the additional $181 billion for all types of wastewater treatment projects eligible for funding under the Act, according to the 2000 needs survey.

One of the greatest challenges for the future of wastewater treatment lies in the industry’s ability to manage the increased demand for sewage treatment caused by population growth. As of the middle of February, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there were 301 million people living in the United States. That number is expected to reach 400 million within the next 50 years. Although American families today are smaller, many are moving further from urban areas into remoter suburbs and rural areas. In 2004, the EPA reported that one-third of new housing developments will manage their sewage through septic systems (known as “on-site treatment”) due to the increasing decentralization of the U.S. population.

Treatment plant costs have risen sharply in recent years: the average per capita cost for wastewater treatment among 132 public agencies in 2004 was $171, an increase of approximately 20 percent from the $143 per capita cost in 1995, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA).

At the same time, federal and state grants and loans declined from 10.6 percent to 5.9 percent of total publicly owned treatment plant revenues between 1992 and 2004, said NACWA.

Thus more of the cost of providing wastewater treatment is falling upon local ratepayers, who already are paying nearly three-quarters of the cost through user fees and local bond issues. Two-thirds of all capital improvements to local treatment plants were financed by debt in 2004, said NACWA, while only 1.2 percent of all capital costs was provided by federal or state grants. In the short run, ASCE supports increasing and expanding appropriations for the Clean Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) program.

In the long term, ASCE supports the creation of a Water Infrastructure Trust Fund to finance the national shortfall in funding drinking-water and wastewater infrastructure systems and other projects designed to improve the nation's water quality.

ASCE further supports a variety of financial mechanisms for the trust fund, such as appropriations from general treasury funds; issuance of revenue bonds and tax exempt financing at state and local levels; public-private partnerships; state infrastructure banks; user fees on certain consumer products; and other innovative financing mechanisms, including broad-based environmental restoration taxes to address problems associated with water pollution and wastewater management and treatment.

II. The United States Geological Survey (USGS)

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was established as a bureau within the Department of the Interior by Congress on March 3, 1879, to provide a permanent federal agency to conduct the systematic and scientific "classification of the public lands and examination of the geologic structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain."

The mission of the USGS has been to collect, analyze, and disseminate geologic, topographic, and hydrologic information that contributes to the wise management of the nation's natural resources and that promotes the health, safety, and well-being of the people. This information takes many forms, including maps, reports, and databases that provide descriptions and analyses of the water, energy, and mineral resources, the land surface, the underlying geologic structure, and the dynamic processes of the Earth.

The USGS received an appropriation of $976 million in FY 2006. The Continuing Resolution provided $977 million for FY 2007, and the president has proposed a budget of $974 million for FY 2008.

ASCE recommends an appropriation of $1.2 billion for the USGS in FY 2008.

A. Cooperative Water Program

The Cooperative Water program (CWP) is the largest single source of hydrologic data in the United States. The proposed funding level for the program for FY 2008 is $62.38 million—a reduction of about $2 million from the FY 2007 appropriation in the Continuing Resolution.

The USGS’ water program budget has shown little increase over the past six years. The agency’s water program staff has declined nearly 20 percent in the past five years. The only “increases” in the USGS budget have come from state and local partners who carry a larger share of the cost of funding the nation’s hydrologic network. What was originally designed as a 50-50 cost-sharing program has evolved into a 67-33 share arrangement, with the local agencies picking up the largest share of the costs. Cutbacks in state budgets in many areas of the country have made it increasingly difficult for the states to shoulder their cost commitments. This has resulted directly in the loss of vitally needed long-term data collection activities and waterresource studies in many states.

ASCE believes Congress should enact a budget of $70 million for the CWP in FY 2008. This will help move the federal share somewhat closer to the historic 50-50 cost share principle.

B. Streamgaging Network

The USGS operates approximately 7,400 stream gages nationwide. This network provides essential real-time information on stream flows. These data are critical to the ability of scientists and engineers to predict flood risks, drought conditions, climate change, and other phenomena. Funding for the National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP) rose from $13.9 million in FY 2006 to $16.2 million in FY 2007, a much-needed 19 percent increase. This was the first significant increase for the program since FY 2001 and helped stabilize the streamgaging network, allowed the Survey to re-activate some discontinued stream gages, and allowed it to take additional steps to modernize stream gages and improve data processing and delivery.

ASCE urges the subcommittee to provide at least $17 million for the NSIP in FY 2008 to allow the USGS to continue making progress toward the reactivation of discontinued gages.

C. National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP)

ASCE would like to acknowledge and support the president’s FY 2008 request of $52.5 million for the Earthquake Hazards Office. ASCE remains concerned about the continued under funding of Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS), the $8 million requested for FY 2008 well under the authorized level of $36 million.

ASCE urges Congress to build on the President’s support and appropriate the full authorized funding level of $87.3 million, including $36 million for ANSS, for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) functions at the U.S. Geological Survey.

That concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to answer any questions the Subcommittee might have.