May 16, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on Protecting the Clean Water Act

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “The Next Fifty Years of the Clean Water Act: Examining the Law and Infrastructure Project Completion.”

Videos of opening statements from Larsen and Napolitano can be found here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:

My state is defined by its clean water, from the Puget Sound to the hundreds of lakes and thousands of miles of rivers and streams throughout Washington.

Washingtonians know that protecting these rivers, streams and wetlands takes work and attention, and that the health of one body of water is intrinsically connected to the health of another.

Our waters and our water-related economy depend on the protections of the Clean Water Act and its pollution-prevention programs.

It is more effective and less costly to prevent pollution than to clean up pollution. This is true in my state and across the nation.

The Puget Sound has several programs and authorities dedicated to its recovery, but even with these investments, progress remains slow.

Improved water quality is the foundation of recovery, and is essential to other goals like habitat restoration, increasing species population and improving the resilience of the Sound.

When this Committee passed the Clean Water Act over 50 years ago, Members recognized the effectiveness and importance of comprehensive pollution prevention measures rather than simply investing in pollution cleanups.

In passing the CWA, Congress specifically noted that the state-by-state, go-it-alone approach was “inadequate in every vital aspect” and left waters severely polluted and expensive to restore.

For decades, Republicans and Democrats shared these bipartisan principles to achieve clean water: maintain a strong federal-state partnership to protect our waters; stop pollution from entering the system in the first place; and support a robust federal floor of protections while allowing states to do more, but not less. 

Last Congress, we passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, affirming our commitment to improving our infrastructure. The BIL included significant investment in our water infrastructure—providing $13.8 billion in federal dollars for upgrading our wastewater systems, preventing pollution discharges and supporting restoration programs in places like the Puget Sound.

These investments are critical, providing a lifeline to communities across the country struggling to maintain water quality. Members who voted for the BIL voted for clean water.

Such a large federal investment requires careful oversight to ensure that Congressional intent is met. On that, we have agreement.

Communities are best served if agencies get programs set up and get these funds out the door quickly. On that, we also have agreement.

Where we diverge, however, is using these investments as an excuse to weaken the Clean Water Act, under the guise of expediting projects. We will hear in testimony today about project delivery reforms that may sound good but can have an adverse impact on water quality.

Clean Water Act investments have led to significant progress in “restoring the chemical, physical and biological integrity” of our waters. Still, a lot of work remains to be done. EPA data indicates that the percentage of impaired waters is back on the rise.

Impaired waters are those that do not meet water quality standards and, today, a leading cause of impairment is excess nutrients. I think almost everyone on this committee has waterbodies in their districts that are threatened by harmful algal blooms or other algal growth fueled by excessive nutrients.

As we saw on the map from NOAA, there are harmful algal bloom outbreaks across the country. Florida, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Pacific Northwest all have significant outbreaks—and virtually no region is untouched.

I cannot support weakening clean water protections and increasing the chance of excess nutrients and pollution entering our systems. I urge my colleagues representing affected regions on this map to think through what weaker protections means for your constituents.

This is just one example of a growing water quality problem. Removing or weakening protections now will cost more in the future, even without other factors making the situation worse.

Yet we know that climate change threatens our water supply, water quality and water ecosystems—so other factors will come into play. 

Now is not the time to retreat on the goals and intent of the Clean Water Act. I encourage ideas to get Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to communities faster, but ideas that put polluters over people and saddle the public with the costs of cleanup are not sustainable solutions.

I thank the witnesses for joining us today and I look forward to your testimony.


Ranking Member Napolitano:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

This Subcommittee has a long history of success in addressing the bipartisan water resources needs of our nation as clean water is essential to our livelihoods, to our environment, and to our businesses.

The strength of the American economy is reliant on a clean water supply as it is a key ingredient for manufacturing, farming, food processing, small business development, and tourism and recreational businesses.   If we do not protect our nation’s waters, this will have a negative impact on business as they will not have the high quality water they need for production and growth. The decline of water quality will require consumers, businesses, and residents to pay more in water utility bills to treat water before it comes to the tap.

This is true whether you live along the coast or in the middle of the country, whether you live in a big city or small town, or whether you live in an affluent community or a community struggling to make ends meet.

Over the past 50 years, the Clean Water Act has made considerable progress in addressing our nation’s water quality concerns.

Through a substantial investment of resources—spurred by federal dollars from the Clean Water Act—this nation was able to fundamentally address the discharge of raw or partially treated sewage into our rivers, streams, and lakes. 

However, challenges remain.

Over the last decade, communities and states have called for additional federal resources to address lingering water quality concerns. 

In response, last Congress, House Democrats delivered with enactment of the largest investment in wastewater infrastructure in generations through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). 

Over the five years covered in the BIL, this critical legislation will provide approximately $13.8 billion in federal clean water resources to address local water quality challenges. 

Further, in recognition that not all communities are on equal financial footings, the BIL ensured that roughly half of the funding would be provided in the form of grants or other flexible financing to address the needs of economically disadvantaged communities, including rural and tribal communities—many of which have borne the burden of environmental contamination for too long.

Yet, as important as robust water infrastructure financing might be, there are limits to what can be done relying solely on wastewater infrastructure investment.

Over the past few years, more and more communities have experienced recurring outbreaks of harmful algal blooms that can produce toxins, kill fish, mammals, and birds, contaminate drinking water sources, and cause human illness or even death in extreme cases.

As shown on the map on the screens, harmful algal blooms have become a national concern because they affect not only the health of people and marine ecosystems, but also the “health” of our economy—especially coastal communities dependent on the income of jobs generated through fishing and tourism.

We all know that a major cause these blooms is excessive nutrients—such as nitrogen and phosphorous—in U.S. waters. Unfortunately, according to state data, excessive nutrients continue to be one of our nation’s leading water quality issues. 

Today, approximately 58% of rivers and streams, 40% of lakes, and 21% of coastal waters are impaired due to high levels of nutrients. 

You can see the location of many of these contaminated waters on this second map on the screen—and, Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that both maps be made part of today’s hearing record.

What is worse is that, according to EPA data, the percentage of nutrient impaired waterways is increasing, even with substantial investment in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.

Clearly, more needs to be done. 

Unfortunately, in my opinion, every water bill advanced by this Committee in this Congress would needlessly weaken federal and state efforts to protect our waters from pollution, such as excessive nutrients.

In my opinion, every water bill advanced in this Congress would result in more waterbodies being impaired by contamination, such as harmful algal blooms, not less.

Now is not the time to pull back on federal investments in our wastewater infrastructure. 

Now is not the time to weaken federal and state efforts to protect our nation’s waters.

Now is not the time to weaken our clean water future.

I welcome our panelists here today, and look forward to their valued input.

I yield back the balance of my time.