Chesapeake News and Volunteer Opportunities
Chesapeake News and Volunteer Opportunities

Holiday Surprise: Some Political Agreement on Clean Water

Some hopeful signs this week that politicians can set aside partisan differences, at least temporarily, and work together to provide Americans with clean water.

At the national level, some members of Congress from both political parties agree that the federal government should spend more money to help fix the nation’s crumbling water infrastructure and to work cooperatively with U.S. cities and towns to solve nettlesome water pollution problems.

“In a rare display of bipartisan consensus, senators on the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee agreed that water infrastructure was one area, at least, in which more government spending could be used in part to boost the economy,” E&E Daily reported this week.

Two influential Republican senators, Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), agreed that federal economic stimulus funding should be spent on wastewater and drinking water improvements because it creates jobs and protects public health and the environment.  
Stormwater drain.schlyer-cbr-8489An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official told the panel the agency estimates the nation faces $635 billion worth of water capital improvement needs over the next 20 years.

“Our nation’s water infrastructure is reaching a tipping point. The path we are on is unsustainable,” Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said. To read the whole story, click here.

During another hearing this week, House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee members discussed how EPA should best deal with localities with aging sewer systems that frequently overflow and pollute waterways. EPA enforcement chief Cynthia Giles promised flexibility, recognizing local cost concerns and tight budgets, but would not rule out enforcement actions to encourage local upgrades.

Still, the acknowledgement of financial burdens and need for flexibility was well received.

“Ranking member Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) noted the collegiality was in stark contrast to the fury on display in numerous hearings earlier this year over other EPA regulations,” E&E Daily reported.

"A rare thing has happened today," Bishop said. "There has been near unanimity among all of you, and that unanimity has been positive with respect to an EPA policy. ... That ought to be noted for the record with some gratitude."

On the local level, the city council in Lynchburg, Va., voted this week to establish a new stormwater feeSign.schlyer-cbr-8083 to help better manage the dirty water running off the streets and parking lots of that city. 

“The stormwater fee, set to start July 1, is designed to charge properties according to how extensively developed they are,” the News & Advance newspaper reported. “Proceeds will be used to fund a more robust stormwater management program and infrastructure upgrades needed to comply with tougher water quality standards related to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.”

The new fee is not without controversy and has been the subject of much debate on the council. The amount of the fee remains to be determined, and there will likely be more difficult discussions next spring during the city’s budget process.

However, there does seem to be broad understanding among city officials that Lynchburg has a responsibility to reduce the pollution the city contributes to the James River, a major Chesapeake Bay tributary and local source for drinking water and recreation. Making the tough decisions to meet that responsibility isn’t easy, but that localities like Lynchburg are making them bodes well for our nation’s aging infrastructure, new jobs, cleaner local streams, and a healthier Chesapeake Bay.

That’s an outlook echoed this week by Virginia State Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Mount Solon) at a Chamber of Commerce forum in the Shenandoah Valley. Hanger told the local business leaders that the environment and Chesapeake Bay cleanup will be important issues in the upcoming Virginia legislative session, reported The News Virginian newspaper.

“We must clean up the Bay and restore it to the economic driver and the national treasure it has been,’’ Hanger said, adding the responsibility continues for the Shenandoah Valley to do its part to restore the Bay because of the Valley’s location in the Bay watershed.

If you agree, contact Hanger and other local, state, and federal representatives and tell them to keep working for clean water.

Chuck Epes

Photos (top to bottom): Garth Lenz/iLCP; Krista Schlyer/iLCP; Krista Schlyer/iLCP


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