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June 15, 2021  |  Written by Michelle E. Chester

Water Quality Legislation Attracts Bipartisan Support

President Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative proposes to invest $111 billion in rebuilding and modernizing drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, as well as funding other water quality-related priorities, including addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water supplies.  Legislation proposed in both the Senate and House of Representatives in the 117th Congress (2021-2022) reflects a bipartisan effort to translate the President’s goals into national policy.

Senate Bill 914 (S. 914), the “Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021,” authorizes the investment of over $35 billion over five years in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant programs and revolving loan funds for resource development projects associated with drinking water infrastructure under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and clean water infrastructure under the Clean Water Act.  The Senate passed S. 914 by a strong bipartisan vote of 89-2 in April of this year, earning praise from national environmental advocacy groups, such as the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.  The key components of the bill include:

  • Reauthorizing Safe Drinking Water Act programs, including the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, to protect public health through the improvement of drinking water programming and infrastructure, with a focus on expanding program eligibility and opportunities for small, rural, tribal, and disadvantaged communities; and
  • Authorizing water and wastewater infrastructure programs under the Clean Water Act, including reauthorizing the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan program and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, to provide financial and technical assistance to improve water supplies, efficiency, and resiliency, particularly for small and disadvantaged communities.

H.R. 1915, or the “Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021,” is the House of Representatives’ counterpart to S. 914.  In contrast to the Senate bill, H.R. 1915 would authorize the investment of $50 billion over five years for wastewater infrastructure and water quality programing, with $40 billion alone allocated to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.  H.R. 1915 was reviewed and advanced by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in June with the support of more than 40 bipartisan cosponsors.  The bill now advances to the House Floor for a vote.  The differences between the Senate and House versions will be ironed out in a conference committee.

Pending legislation addressing PFAS has not received the same level of bipartisan support as proposals regarding water quality related infrastructure.  However, the “PFAS Action Act of 2021” (H.R. 2467) currently lists bipartisan cosponsors for the effort to establish a comprehensive framework for regulation of these chemicals, which are a category of environmentally persistent substances that may lead to adverse health outcomes in humans at certain levels of exposure.  H.R. 2467 is an omnibus bill that would require the regulation of PFAS chemicals under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.  The proposed legislation is nearly identical to a bill from the 116th Congress, H.R. 535, that the House passed last year by a 247-159 vote, but which failed to gain traction with the Republican-controlled Senate.  In addition to H.R. 2467, the “Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act,” has been introduced in both the Senate (S. 1907) and House (H.R. 3622).  These bills seek to require the U.S. EPA to develop water quality standards for and regulate PFAS under the Clean Water Act.  To date, language regarding regulation or monitoring of PFAS has only been signed into law as part of other public and environmental health related legislative packages.  Proponents of PFAS legislation hope that the Democratic majority in the Senate will allow for the passage of standalone PFAS legislation that creates a comprehensive regulatory framework for these so-called “forever” chemicals.

For additional information, please contact water quality attorney Michelle Chester at mchester@somachlaw.com.

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