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Pallone Testifies Before Joint Legislative Task Force on Drinking Water Infrastructure

December 14, 2016
Press Release

LONG BRANCH, NJ – Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06),  the Ranking Member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, testified before the  Joint Legislative Task Force on Drinking Water Infrastructure, a six-member panel directed to draft a report on the state of water resources in New Jersey. Pallone discussed his recent efforts in Congress on the bill which the President signed yesterday to provide funds to improve our nation’s water infrastructure. This year, Pallone worked to secure $750 million in funding for new drinking water programs to monitor for lead in schools, replace lead service lines, support disadvantaged communities, and support research into innovating drinking water technology.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act has not been updated for 20 years, which has put our drinking water at risk,” said Pallone. “The crisis in Flint has highlighted the need for action, but water systems nationwide are in dire need of dramatic improvements, including many in New Jersey. We need to empower communities to protect themselves and make sure that all of our children have safe drinking water.”

Congressman Pallone partnered with other safe drinking water advocates in Congress to introduce the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 2016.  The bill would make comprehensive changes to ensure safer drinking water for communities nationwide including, empowering EPA to set much needed drinking water standards; requiring water systems to address risks to their source water from climate change, industrial activity, and terrorism; authorizing new investments in lead line replacement, climate resiliency, monitoring technology, and overall drinking water infrastructure and improving compliance and community right to know.

The legislation also reauthorizes the Drinking Water SRF for five years at higher levels in order to meet the growing needs gap. The first year of funding is aggressive, and is based on levels provided with passage of the Recovery Act in 2009, corrected for inflation ($3.13 billion). The authorization then increases by 15 percent annually going forward.
Authorization Levels in the bill:
FY 2017 -- $3.13 billion
FY 2018 -- $3.6 billion
FY 2019 -- $4.14 billion
FY 2020 -- $4.8 billion
FY 2021 -- $5.5 billion

In February, Pallone testified before the New Jersey Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens on the alarming rates of children affected by lead poisoning throughout the state.  Pallone also discussed his efforts to get answers about federal funding New Jersey receives for lead poisoning prevention programs.

The text of his remarks can be found below.

Statement of Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-6)

New Jersey State Legislature

Joint Legislative Task Force on Drinking Water Infrastructure

I want to start by thanking the Drinking Water Task Force for inviting me to testify here today.  Access to safe drinking water is essential to our health and prosperity as a state and as a nation, but it is far from guaranteed. 

The Safe Drinking Water Act has not been updated for 20 years, which has put our drinking water at risk.  The crisis in Flint has highlighted the need for action, but water systems nationwide are in dire need of dramatic improvements, including many in New Jersey. 

I have managed, with my Democratic colleagues in Congress and President Obama, to find some small successes on drinking water this Congress.  Last year, I helped to pass a law to require EPA to develop a strategic plan to address the impacts of harmful algal blooms on drinking water.  This year, I helped to pass a law to authorize EPA to provide technical assistance to small and rural communities struggling to provide safe water.

And last week, Congress passed a law I worked on to provide money to the community of Flint to repair and replace their drinking water infrastructure.  It took far too long to get that aid for Flint, but in the end we were able to do it before Congress adjourned.

Working with Democrats in the Senate, I was able to get a few drinking water improvements in that bill - including $750 million in funding for new drinking water programs to monitor for lead in schools, replace lead service lines, support disadvantaged communities, and support research into innovating drinking water technology; increased access to assistance for Indian Tribes; and stronger notification requirements following drinking standard violations and exceedances.

But that bill fell far short of what is needed, and in the end, was weighed down with dangerous unrelated provisions.  I am sorry to report that Republicans refused to authorize needed drinking water funding.  According to the most recent EPA estimates, we are looking at $384 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs nationwide, with almost $8 billion in need in New Jersey. 

Republicans also opposed a requirement that federally funded drinking water projects use American iron and steel and pay good wages.  Those requirements should not be controversial – they have been enacted through the appropriations process for years and have clear benefits for American workers and the American economy.

Replacing drinking water infrastructure is good for public health and, if done right, means high paying construction jobs and high paying jobs in the steel industry.  So I will keep fighting, but it is an uphill battle.

Earlier this year, I introduced comprehensive legislation to revise the Safe Drinking Water Act and pay for our needed infrastructure improvements.   

That bill, the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 2016, would empower EPA to set needed drinking water standards, including a revised standard for lead and a standard for perfluorinated compounds including PFOA (pronounced p-foe-a).  The DEP recently put out a new standard for PFOA in New Jersey, but having a federal standard is important to ensure that we are protecting public health. 

The bill would also reduce exposure to lead in drinking water, including in schools.  The bill provides grants for replacement of lead service lines in schools and communities, grants for replacement of school drinking fountains containing lead, and grants for lead monitoring programs in schools. 

The bill also requires EPA to prepare new guidance for schools planning lead infrastructure replacement and update guidance for schools and child care centers on monitoring, mitigating, and communicating issues with lead contamination.

The bill would also require water systems to assess their vulnerabilities to climate change, terrorism, and source water contamination and provide funding to address those vulnerabilities.  

The bill would remove the dangerous and unwarranted exemption for hydraulic fracturing, so that EPA and states would be required to ensure that fracking does not contaminate drinking water supplies.  Just yesterday, EPA released their final report on fracking, finding risks to drinking water and dangerous data gaps.  So it is clearer than ever before that the exemption must be repealed.

The bill would also provide more and better information to communities concerned about the quality of their drinking water.  After the crisis in Flint and findings of lead in school drinking water across New Jersey and the Country, we need to empower communities to protect themselves. 

I will reintroduce this comprehensive bill early next year, and work to advance these issues however I can at the federal level.  But I expect Republicans in Congress will continue to ignore these issues, and the next president is likely to join them.  It will be even more important moving forward for state governments, cities and towns, and community groups to do everything they can. 

So, what can this task force do?  I think the most important thing to do is to understand the threats to our drinking water resources in this state.  The risks from climate change and extreme weather, lead in our pipes, contaminated Superfund and Brownfield sites along our rivers, and current industrial activity should all be assessed.

I mentioned that my bill would require water systems to identify their vulnerabilities and plan to address them.  This is something that could be done at the state level, and in fact New Jersey has long been a leader in assessing and addressing vulnerabilities in our infrastructure. 

We have seen numerous instances in recent years of cities losing their water supply for days or weeks - the crisis in Flint, the chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia, the algal bloom in Toledo, Ohio, the coal ash spill in North Carolina that took out drinking water supplies in Virginia.  Each of those events offer lessons.

So I think that this task force is very timely, and has an important role to play.  I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today and I look forward to working with you in the coming months.