House Democrats Unveil Massive Infrastructure Package; Clean Water Prioritized

(June 24, 2020) – On June 22nd, the U.S. House of Representatives Majority leadership released a comprehensive infrastructure investment package, the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2). A press release, summary, and text of the package are available here. In total, the legislation would authorize over $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment across all sectors, including clean water and drinking water.  

The overall funding level for the clean water sector is $50.5 billion, alongside $25.4 billion for drinking water and another $10 billion for U.S. Army Corps water resources projects. Key programs supported in the proposal for the clean water sector include:  

  • $40 billion over five years to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). This would be a roughly four-fold increase over current federal funding levels. The CWSRF language also calls for increased use of the federal capitalization grants for additional subsidization to help keep water rates affordable, as well as increased investment in energy efficiency at wastewater treatment plants, green infrastructure, and workforce development;  

  • $2 billion over five years for the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Grants Program. This program was authorized and funded for the first-time last Congress, and this funding level would reflect a major infusion in grant dollars for utility projects;   

  • $1 billion for Clean Water utility resiliency grants;  

Additionally, key policy provisions in the legislation include:  

  • Requiring the EPA to review the existing municipal financial capability guidance for implementing the Clean Water Act and identify whether and how it needs to be updated. As part of this review, the legislation directs EPA to consider the 2019 report by NACWA, AWWA, and WEF: Developing a New Framework for Household Affordability and Financial Capability Assessment in the Water Sector; 

  • Reinstating Municipal Bond Advance Refunding, by repealing the prohibition put in place under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This provision’s impacts for the clean water sector were detailed in a recent NACWA white paper on water financing.  

This legislative language fleshes out the House Democrat’s Infrastructure Framework, released earlier this year. For the clean water sector, the package builds upon H.R. 1497, the major bipartisan clean water reauthorization package which NACWA advocated for over the past year, proposing even higher funding levels to better reflect the transformative levels of funding being called for to strengthen U.S. infrastructure and to help catalyze the economy.  

The infrastructure package is viewed as a separate entity from the next phase of COVID-19 relief, such as the House-passed Heroes Act which is currently waiting on Senate action. However, the urgency for infrastructure investment is very much tied, in part, to the need to strengthen vital infrastructure sectors and to create new jobs as a result of the economic downturn. In releasing the language, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted how, due to the coronavirus, “so many of the needs have been magnified in terms of water needs.” 

In terms of next steps, the House Majority plans to quickly consider and pass H.R. 2 by the Fourth of July. But the package is unlikely to receive support from House Republicans and will not be taken up “as is” in the Senate, with its Republican Majority. Senate leadership continues evaluating its best path forward on both additional COVID-19 relief and infrastructure, and no action is expected in that Chamber until late July. The House hopes to pressure the Senate to act by quickly passing this infrastructure package.  

Thank you to all NACWA members for weighing in with your Members of Congress. NACWA staff continues to be closely engaged with Congress as it considers these proposals. Contact Kristina Surfus or Jason Isakovic at NACWA to discuss further anytime.