By Mae Stevens

This has been a busy summer for infrastructure and that will not change into the fall. Over the past months, Congress has been working to pass two pieces of legislation that account for the largest federal investment in infrastructure that our country has ever seen: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF), and the budget reconciliation package.

The BIF, a product of bipartisan negotiations between 12 Democratic and 10 Republican senators, allocates $550 billion (USD) in new spending over five years for physical infrastructure investments. Passage in the Senate is governed by normal procedure, which requires a minimum of 60 votes. On August 8, the Senate voted 69-30 to advance the BIF to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will pair with the second large infrastructure bill (detailed below).

The BIF’s available $550 billion in funding includes $55 billion for water infrastructure, appropriating funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for lead pipe removal and perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) remediation, and for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for infrastructure upgrades. The framework also authorizes over $8 billion for western water infrastructure projects through the Bureau of Reclamation.

The second piece of legislation, known as reconciliation because of the name of the budgetary process Congress will use to advance it to a vote. On July 13, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the Senate agreement on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. On August 24, House Democrats approved the same spending package with a 220-212 vote. Negotiations on final bill text will continue into the fall.

Because of the special rules governing this process, the package only needs 50 votes (plus the Vice President’s tie-breaker) to pass in the Senate, instead of the typical 60 vote threshold. Using this special process, however, means that Congress can only appropriate funding to existing programs and cannot create new policy. In general, this bill will be used to address human infrastructure and social spending in President Biden’s Build Back Better Plan that was excluded from the BIF. This will likely include increased funding for water affordability programs, giving vulnerable families much-needed access to clean and safe water and sanitation services and allowing communities the capitol they need for new construction, operations and maintenance to meet regulatory requirements and protect public health and the environment. At the time of this writing, Congressional committees are drafting their individual components of the larger bill and it remains to be seen what will make it into the final package.

Do your part
Water professionals have the power to help secure the largest ever federal investment in water infrastructure. Your Representatives and Senators want to hear from their constituents—you can and should capitalize on this opportunity and advocate for the importance of water infrastructure! Visit your Representatives’ and Senators’ website and submit comments expressing your support for federal water infrastructure investment. Shoot for a few paragraphs explaining why federal investment in water is so important. Don’t want to write? Call to your members’ office line instead! All of their contact information should be readily available on their website. Now is the time to make your voice heard and inform lawmakers on the benefits of investing in water infrastructure.

About the author
Mae Stevens is an Executive Vice President at Signal Group and the Chair of Signal Water. She provides strategic environmental and infrastructure policy expertise to a diverse range of corporate, municipal and non-profit clients. Prior to joining Signal Group, Stevens served as Environmental Policy Advisor to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), handling the Senator’s responsibilities on the Environment and Public Works Committee, including staffing the Senator during the crafting and passage of the FAST Act and the 2016 and 2018 Water Resources Development Act bills.

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