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Investing in A New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act

Floor Speech

Date: July 1, 2020
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SHIMKUS. Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to the amendment.


Mr. SHIMKUS. Madam Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Madam Speaker, I was here on the floor yesterday evening to debate the amendments under the Energy and Commerce Committee's jurisdiction that were airdropped into this Transportation and Infrastructure bill. This is another one. Although the intent is good, it is a terrible amendment because it didn't go through regular order. The committee of jurisdiction didn't get a chance to understand it and debate it, and I will explain why.

My constituents get tired of process arguments, and also a lot of Members get tired of that. We used to have some very powerful committees in this institution, and Members would develop subject- matter expertise through the years of hearings and detail-focused markups. When we moved bills through regular order it would help avoid unintended consequences above bad public policy, and this amendment is another example of bad public policy.

So while I appreciate the well-meaning sentiments behind the sponsors, including the emphasis the amendment places on prioritizing communities who cannot afford lead pipe replacements, the way this amendment is drafted leaves me with many questions about how it operates and that it won't actually result in the claims of its sponsors.

First, the amendment authorizes a brand-new comprehensive lead program, which is not well-defined, on top of the existing lead reduction program which is defined. I am sure my colleagues don't even know we have a lead reduction program right now under current law.

We know the existing lead reduction program contains education and lead service line replacements. All we know about the comprehensive lead program is that it pays to remove lead service lines. This seems like less but calling it comprehensive certainly suggests more.

In addition, this amendment authorizes $4.5 billion per year for both programs. Does this mean $4.44 billion is supposed to go to the new, undefined comprehensive program and $60 million to the existing defined lead reduction program?

Are they supposed to be treated equally?

On the question of funding, the amount authorized to be spent in 1 year is 300 percent more than the entire amount of Federal funding for major drinking water aid programs. It is actually about one-half of the EPA's entire annual budget.

The regular lead reduction program which was authorized at $60 million per year and took 4 years to establish is now just starting to award funds. Since the comprehensive program is a separate program, we can expect this program to take longer to get going, but in reality, pushing this unprecedented level of funding out the door might be aspirational rather than realistic. That would be a shame for those communities who need it most.

Second, the amendment waives any requirements for matching funds from the water systems or communities that obtain them. On top of that, this amendment waives any requirement for any person to pay for replacement of their personally-owned portion of lead service lines, whereas the existing program waives this expense for low-income people. This means people who have the financial resources to afford their own replacements don't have to use them at all because the new comprehensive program will pick up the check for them. That is not very progressive. Compensating the wealthy for these replacements both now and in the future is an especially harsh consequence for U.S. taxpayers, but that is what this amendment does.

Flint was a failure at all levels, and it happened because of money in politics. The city of Flint wanted off Detroit water because they felt they were being gouged on their rates.

The city council set an artificial political deadline for transition that wasn't based on the engineering needs of the system's water chemistry.

The State cut the city slack because the city was in receivership and didn't pursue enforcement.

EPA was aware of the high-level readings but minimized their impact to avoid causing a panic and slowed-walked the legal response.

The biggest problem was that no one told the public.

Flint suffered because of that, and the people living in the most neglected areas of Flint suffered the most.

So while this amendment guarantees priority funding for cities and water utilities for low-income folks, this amendment does not mandate that these households get their lead service lines replaced first or that they target the worst contamination. Let me repeat that. Under this amendment, you can be the reason your city or utility gets moved to the front of the line, but that city does not have to replace the poorest and most dangerous lead service lines.

This is another example of why we shouldn't stick safe drinking water amendments on a transportation bill. It bastardizes the process and creates poor public policy like this amendment.

I ask for a ``no'' vote.

In fact, Chairman DeFazio in the Rules Committee once said: I have no idea what these amendments mean because I had no jurisdiction on this process.

So with that, Madam Speaker, vote ``no'' on this very poorly drafted amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.