In the first hearing of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the 115th Congress, members discussed the role of federal agencies in building water infrastructure. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which implement much of the country’s water regulatory programs and infrastructure projects. The discussion focused mainly on potential cuts to EPA’s budget and how these would impact water infrastructure projects.
The dialog included debate on the role of federal regulations, including affordability considerations, and there was a partisan split over their importance. Chairman Garret Graves (LA-6) claimed, “In many cases, we’ve found regulations or solutions in search of problems.” Also in favor of reducing regulations, Mr. Jonathan Kernion (President, Cycle Construction Company LLC), while showing support for cutting EPA’s budget, noted that one cost-cutting method would be to reduce staff, saying there are “many federal agency cooks in the environmental review and permitting kitchen.” In contrast, Mr. Kevin Degood (Director, Center For American Progress) disagreed, stating, “If our goal here is to give people greater certainty and to speed those processes up, I don’t see how cutting federal staff and federal budgets are going to do that.” In addition to regulatory reform, Mr. Kerrnion also highlighted several laws that he believes provide opportunities for reform, including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Finally, Mr. Degood pointed to climate change as a potential future challenge for water infrastructure. He listed rising sea levels causing problems to drinking and wastewater facilities in South Florida as a key example and added, “adapting to climate change is not merely a line item in the budget” but an issue of “basic economic viability.”