WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Senate passed several of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) bills to protect Ohioans’ drinking water and keep Lake Erie healthy as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA). The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
“The water crises in communities like Toledo and Sebring have underscored the importance of redoubling our efforts to guarantee Ohioans have access to quality drinking water,” Brown said. “The Water Resources Development Act will ensure federal investments in programs that help communities revitalize their aging infrastructure, prevent and reduce lead and algal bloom contamination, and keep our lakes and rivers healthy and safe. I urge my colleagues in the House to quickly pass this important legislation so Ohio’s residents and businesses have access to the resources that will continue to make our state a great place to work and live.”
IMPROVING WATER QUALITY WHILE KEEPING WATER RATES AFFORDABLE FOR COMMUNITIES
WRDA includes provisions of Brown’s Clean Water Affordability Act – a bill to help communities make renovations to outdated sewer systems, while improving water quality and keeping rates affordable for residents and small business.
In the event of a storm or excessive rain, overflow systems cannot handle both human wastewater and storm runoff at the same time. Federal guidelines require municipalities to renovate these outdated systems to prevent untreated wastewater and storm water from contaminating water sources, but upgrades often prove too costly for many small communities. Brown’s bill would update the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) clean water affordability policy, which can put undue strain on the budgets of local communities.
Specifically, WRDA includes the provisions of the Clean Water Affordability Act that:
• Recognize local economic trends—high unemployment rates, recent job loss, population loss, impact of rate increases on low-income populations—to adjust the process and increase flexibility in the setting of compliance dates;
• Authorize $1.8 billion in competitive grants over the next five years and prioritizes communities who already have water quality issues and need the money most. According to Standard and Poors, every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects creates more than 20,000 jobs;
• Require EPA to increase its emphasis on cost-saving green infrastructure projects; and
• Encourage integrated planning to allow communities to prioritize and plan for water-infrastructure investments in the most affordable way for ratepayers.
PROTECTING LAKE ERIE AND REDUCING HARMFUL ALGAL BLOOMS
Brown’s bill to appoint a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) coordinator: The coordinator will work with appropriate federal agencies and state, local, tribal, and foreign governments to address the issue of harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes.
Authorization of funding to help keep the Great Lakes healthy and clean: WRDA would reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) at $300 million annually from 2017 through 2021. Brown is a longtime supporter of the GLRI, which has been a highly successful program that has targeted the most significant problems in the region and jumpstarted restoration efforts to protect, maintain, and restore the chemical, biological, and physical integrity of the Great Lakes.
Brown is an original cosponsor of the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act of 2015 (GLEEPA) – a bill to reauthorize the initiative while also codifying the Great Lakes Advisory Board and the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force into law.
The Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act: Brown is a cosponsor of this bipartisan bill that authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – which aids in implementing the GLRI – to partner with other federal agencies, states, and tribes to protect and support fish and wildlife resources in the Great Lakes Basin.
PROTECTING OHIO FAMILIES FROM LEAD EXPOSURE:
Brown has been a strong supporter of federal funding to help prevent lead poisoning, monitor lead exposure in children, and eliminate lead hazards and the contaminated drinking water in Sebring, Ohio and Flint, Michigan underscored the importance of this funding. WRDA includes several of his provisions to protect Ohio families from lead exposure:
Lead Testing in School and Child Care Drinking Water Act of 2016: Brown cosponsored this bill, which would create a new federal grant program to help daycare centers and school districts test their drinking water for potential lead contamination. WRDA authorizes $20 million for this grant program through the EPA.
Public notification: WRDA includes a Brown proposal from a bill he introduced that requires the EPA to automatically alert the public to lead contamination if the state or local agency responsible fails to do so in 15 days. Currently, local and state officials are responsible for notifying the public, which they failed to do in a timely manner in the cases of Sebring and Flint.
Drinking Water Safety and Infrastructure Act: Brown is a cosponsor of this bill, which would provide federal aid to communities facing lead crises and help new ones from occurring. Many provisions from the bill that would help Sebring and other communities in Ohio are included in WRDA:
• $70 million in credit subsidies for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (WIFIA) Fund with the goal of obligating at least $700 million in secured financing for water infrastructure projects across the country. All water systems are eligible for financing.
• $10 million for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Healthy Homes Program, which provides grants to states to identify and tackle environmental health and safety issues such as lead, mold, carbon monoxide, and radon. Brown is the ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and, in March 2015, he wrote to Senate Appropriators requesting support for the program.
• $10 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund, which develops programs, provides outreach to the public and health provider, supports research, and funds state programs to address and prevent childhood lead poisoning.
• $10 million for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Healthy Start Initiative which provides assistance to pregnant women and new mothers by helping connect them with health care and other resources to foster healthy childhood development.
WRDA also includes $20 million for a new EPA grant program to reduce lead levels in drinking water through replacement of lead service lines, testing, planning, corrosion control, and public education. Applicants for disadvantaged communities will receive priority access to funding. Additionally, the bill includes $20 million for a new EPA grant program that will help small and disadvantaged communities comply with federal standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act.