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House Republicans Propose Cutting Federal Funds for Clean Water Programs by 64%

“[The] proposal threatens the very safety of our country’s water and wastewater systems,” said Food & Water Watch.

Department of Water and Power workmen use a backhoe to dig through the pavement to isolate a 12-inch water main that ruptured on Fairfax Avenue at the intersection of San Vicente Boulevard in the Miracle Mile area in Los Angeles, California, in September, 2009.

The advocacy group Food & Water Watch on Thursday called out Republicans on a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee panel for pushing a 64% cut to a pair of federal clean water funds in the next fiscal year.

“House Republicans should be ashamed of themselves,” declared Mary Grant, the group’s Public Water for All campaign director, in a statement. “Their spending proposal threatens the very safety of our country’s water and wastewater systems for the sake of political showmanship.”

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), on Thursday marked up a GOP appropriations bill for fiscal year 2024. A Republican fact sheet celebrates proposed “cuts to wasteful spending” and “claw-backs of prior appropriations,” highlighting that it “reins in” the Environmental Protection Agency, “limits abuse of the Endangered Species Act,” and provides protections for the fossil fuel industry.

The GOP proposal would slash appropriations for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF). The former provides low-interest loans for infrastructure projects like wastewater facilities while the latter provides assistance for initiatives like improving drinking water treatment and fixing old pipes.

Grant stressed that the targeted programs “are widely popular across the political spectrum and have historically enjoyed bipartisan support,” as communities in every state rely on them “to make necessary improvements to keep water and sewer systems safe and reliable.”

For fiscal year 2023, the CWSRF got $1,638,861,000 and the DWSRF got $1,126,101,000, including congressionally directed spending projects; for next year, House Republicans want to allocate $535,000,000 and $460,611,000, respectively — a nearly $1.8 billion cut collectively.

“This far-right radicalism seeks to undermine the essential programs of a functioning government,” Grant charged. “We cannot allow our country to return to an era when rivers were on fire and communities across the country faced unmitigated toxic water threats. The proposed cuts would leave many with unsafe water and exacerbate the nation’s water affordability crisis, adding more pressure on household water bills at a time when families are already grappling with soaring costs for essential services.”

The U.S. Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats, “must reject this outrageous proposal out of hand,” she said. “Safe water should not be a political bargaining chip, nor used to score cheap political points. Safe water is nonnegotiable.”

Grant also called for passing the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER) Act “to safeguard federal water funding from these foolishly political annual appropriations battles.”

Reintroduced in March by U.S. Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the WATER Act is backed by Grant’s group and more than 500 other organizations.

“This is not an issue of any single municipality, but for our entire country,” said Watson Coleman, pointing to water crises in Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi. “Due to a combination of climate change, outdated infrastructure, and systemic disinvestment in our most vulnerable communities, millions of Americans risk losing access to one of the most basic necessities for human life.”

“Access to safe, clean water is a human right,” she added. “The American water crisis will only get worse if we fail to act. I urge all my colleagues in Congress, Democratic and Republican alike, to support this pro-humanity legislation and pass it without delay.”

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter noted at the time that when Congress and President Joe Biden passed the bipartisan infrastructure deal in 2021, “they provided a modest down payment on critical water improvements.”

“But the investment falls far short of what our communities desperately need,” she warned. “The WATER Act is a responsible, comprehensive approach to repairing our failing water and sewer systems that would provide water justice to communities large and small for decades to come. America needs the WATER Act now.”

The organization’s renewed demand for the legislation on Thursday came in the wake of recently released research from the U.S. Geological Survey suggesting that at least 45% of the country’s tap water is contaminated by per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), often called “forever chemicals” because they persist in the human body and environment for long periods.

It also followed a May ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing majority that dramatically reduced which wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act — a decision that Food & Water Watch legal director Tarah Heinzen said “rejects… established science in favor of corporate developers’ profiteering.”

The court was criticized for hearing the case as the Biden administration was still working on a new waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which was finalized in December. Notably, the GOP appropriations bill considered by the panel on Thursday would also repeal that regulation.

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