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April 15, 2011 - Patrick J. Natale, P.E. - FY 2012 Budgets of EPA and U.S. Geological Survey

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Testimony of
The American Society of Civil Engineers
Before the
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
on the FY 2012 Budgets of
The Evironmental Protection Agency
and the United States Geological Survey

April 15, 2011

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am Patrick J. Natale. I am a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of New Jersey and the Executive Director of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). I am pleased to be here today to present ASCE’s views on the proposed budgets for the Environmental Protection agency (EPA) and the United States Geological Survey for Fiscal Year 2012.

A. THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

The president’s proposed budget for EPA in FY 2012 represents a setback for the nation because it reduces spending on critical infrastructure systems designed to protect public health.

Our 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s wastewater and drinking-water systems identical grades of D–, marking them as systems in near total failure. We estimated then that the physical condition of many of the nation's 16,000 wastewater treatment systems was poor due to a lack of investment in plants, equipment, and other capital improvements over the years, while federal funding under the Clean Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) program had remained flat for more than a decade. Federal assistance has not kept pace with the needs, yet virtually every authority agrees that funding needs remain very high, a condition that has not improved in the last two years.

The EPA “Clean Water Needs Survey” for 2008, released last October, put the total wastewater and stormwater management needs for the nation at $298.1 billion as of January 1, 2008. This amount includes $192.2 billion for wastewater treatment plants, pipe repairs, and buying and installing new pipes; $63.6 billion for combined sewer overflow correction; and $42.3 billion for stormwater management. Small communities have documented needs of $22.7 billion.
In addition to the $298.1 billion in wastewater and stormwater needs, the report documented needs of $22.8 billion for nonpoint source pollution prevention and $23.9 billion for decentralized wastewater (septic) systems. An estimated $334.5 billion and $81.5 billion in needs are potentially eligible for assistance from EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Nonpoint Source Control Grant programs respectively, the agency reported.

Meanwhile, the nation’s drinking-water systems also face staggering public investment needs over the next 20 years. Although America spends billions on water infrastructure each year, drinking water systems face an annual shortfall of at least $11 billion in funding needed to replace aging facilities that are near the end of their useful life and to comply with existing and future federal water regulations. The shortfall does not account for any growth in the demand for drinking water over the next 20 years. Nevertheless, the agency’s overall budget proposal for FY 2012 represents about a 13 percent decrease from the FY 2010 enacted budget of $10.3 billion for all EPA programs.

The most serious cutback totals $2.5 billion—a decrease of $938 million—for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and Safe Drinking Water Act SRF. The wastewater treatment SRF is being reduced by $550 million and the drinking-water SRF by $388 million from the FY 2010 enacted amounts.
On its web site, the EPA states: “While this budget includes significant cuts, it is designed to ensure that EPA can effectively carry out its core mission to protect public health and our environment, including the reductions of . . . water pollution.” http://www.epa.gov/planandbudget/annualplan/fy2012.html
We respectfully disagree. The agency’s own budget states the problem succinctly. “America’s waters remain imperiled.”

Federal funds contributed to the SRFs have ensured efficient systemwide planning and continuing management of sustainable water infrastructure since 1987. With the nation facing a $400 billion to $500 billion investment gap in its wastewater and drinking-water infrastructure over the next 20 years, now is not the time to cut federal investments in public health.

We recognize of course that Congress is dealing with enormous deficits and a growing federal debt, but the remedies for these problems must not come at the expense of programs aimed at protecting public health from the dangers of increased contamination in our rivers, lakes and streams and our drinking-water supplies.

ASCE recommends an appropriation of $2 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) and an appropriation of $1.5 billion for the Safe Drinking Water Act SRF in FY 2012.

B. UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is one of the nation’s foremost science agencies. It produces the scientific data essential for the protection of the quality of economically vital water resources, for the prediction of earthquakes and volcanoes, for the cataloging of America’s vast biological resources and for dozens of other critically important technical needs.

The administration’s FY 2012 budget request for the USGS is $1.118 billion, an overall decrease of $15 million or 1.3 percent below the USGS budget request for FY 2011, but a small increase of $6 million or one half of one percent above the FY 2010 enacted level.

Although there is a $6 million increase in the total USGS budget request for FY 2012 compared to the FY 2010 enacted level, the FY 2012 budget request contains significant cuts in many programs that are offset by increases in other areas, including a $59.6 million increase in a new account for National Land Imaging.

The USGS budget request for FY 2012 includes $89.1 million in program reductions in longstanding programs. The proposed budget cuts would have significant impacts on USGS programs. Proposed budget cuts in the FY 2012 USGS budget request include decreases of $9.8 million for Biological Information Management and Delivery, $9.6 million for Mineral Resources, $8.9 million for National Water Quality Assessment, $6.5 million for Cooperative Water Program, and $4.7 million for Earthquake Hazards.

In FY 2012 the administration seeks to cut the National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) by $6.7 million from FY 2010. NAWQA is one of the nation’s major sources of information on the flow and volume of rivers, streams and groundwater formations. The least harmful effect of these cuts would postpone the implementation of real-time technology for water-quality monitoring necessary to public health programs at the state and local levels. At their worst they would eliminate funding for monitoring and assessment of groundwater in 33 states. This information is used to identify contaminants in public drinking-water wells and manage groundwater to meet future needs for potable drinking-water and uncontaminated irrigation flows.

The USGS operates approximately 7,000 stream gages nationwide. These gages provide real-time data typically are recorded at 15- to 60-minute intervals, stored onsite, and then transmitted to USGS offices every one to four hours, depending on the data relay technique used, through the stream-gauging program. These data are used to predict floods, allocate water supplies, provide water flow data for publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), and assist in the design of flood-resistant bridges. National Streamflow Information Program is being reduced by more than $800,000 from the FY 2010 enacted appropriation for streamflow in the president’s budget. We urge the Congress to reinstate this cut.

The administration also proposes to cut $3.5 million from the coastal and marine geology program. We support efforts to restore the entire amount of the reduction. This program supports the USGS’ effort to understand the science of coastal and marine hazards, coastal groundwater studies and research into catastrophic storms, leaving funding only for the largest hurricanes to make landfall. These cuts are ill conceived and threaten the safety of Americans living along our coastlines.

We understand the challenges presented by the federal budget deficit. But any failure to prevent natural hazards from becoming natural disasters will increase future expenditures for disaster response and recovery. Recent natural disasters provide unmistakable evidence that society is vulnerable to staggering losses. The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11, 2011, the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in Haiti on January 12, 2010, and the small volcanic eruptions in Iceland that disrupted global air traffic in April 2011, provide compelling evidence that the United States should take further actions to reduce risks from natural hazards.

The Administration’s FY 2012 budget request includes $133.9 million for Natural Hazards, $5.1 million below the 2010 enacted level. ASCE is concerned that this decrease could compromise public safety. USGS, and other federal agencies involved in hazards research and mitigation, have face many years of underfunding; the proposed budget request will continue this trend.

The recent earthquakes highlight the importance of such programs as the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), of which USGS is an important part. The Earthquake Hazards Program (EHP) is one part of USGS’ contribution to NEHRP. Earthquakes pose significant risk to 75 million Americans in 39 States. The EHP provides information and products for earthquake loss reduction, including hazard and risk assessment, and comprehensive real-time earthquake monitoring. ASCE request that Congress restore funding to FY 2010 levels for Natural Hazards.

Congress must increase the total appropriation for the USGS in FY 2012. It must restore the $39 million in cuts proposed for biological information, mineral resources, water-quality assessment and earthquake hazards programs in order to provide full funding for uncontrollable cost increases, and to provide new funds to enable the agency to address a growing backlog of needs for USGS science and information, accelerate the timetable for deployment of critical projects, and undertake new initiatives that address new challenges.

ASCE recommends an appropriation of $1.2 billion for the USGS in FY 2012