On August 1, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer introduced the Water Protection and Reinvestment Act (HR 6249) to address the nation’s aging water infrastructure.  The bill would use excise taxes targeted at industries that are dependent upon and impact safe and reliable water to reinvigorate the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF).  The CWSRF awards grants to states to capitalize loans to publicly owned treatment works in accordance with the Clean Water Act.  Under the bill, the funds would be available for “green infrastructure” and water efficiency initiatives as well. 

Initial funding sources identified in the bill include a 3 cent per container excise tax on water-based beverages; a 3% excise tax on items disposed of in wastewater, such as toothpaste, cosmetics, toilet paper and cooking oil; and a 0.5% excise tax on pharmaceutical products.  The Congressional Budget Office is directed to identify additional funding sources.

The need for action is real.  Our water infrastructure has been badly neglected and underfunded over the last couple of decades.  As the congressman’s bill summary indicates, the American Society of Civil Engineers said that “if current trends persist, by 2020, unreliable infrastructure will cost businesses $147 billion and households $59 billion.”

But it’s hard to see the bill getting anywhere in the current political environment, especially in an election year.  Although such an infusion of resources would certainly create a lot of jobs, and although the bill is presented as “deficit-neutral,” House Republicans would almost certainly paint it as just another Democrat tax-and-spend bill.  Too bad.  Rep. Blumenauer has consistently been one of the few grownups in the Congress focused on the basic underpinnings of any successful economy—transportation and water systems that work.