Who Cares If The Water Isn’t Safe?

Defiance, Ohio recently lost nearly 1000 auto industry jobs. The loss takes a deep bite out of the local economy of a relatively small city of 17,000. Like many towns, villages and cities in the Great Lakes region, Defiance has an antiquated waste water treatment system – a deteriorating infrastructure plagued with combined overflow problems. Defiance needs to find $60 million to pay for these problems over the next two decades at a time when jobs are increasingly harder to find.

“Community after community can’t afford to pay the rates,” Ohio Senator George Voinovich (R) told EPA Administrator Steve Johnson in an impassioned criticism of the U.S. President’s proposed Budget for 2009. Johnson was called before the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about the $1.74 billion budget.

The President’s proposed budget makes it clear he simply doesn’t care about the folks in Defiance and numerous other cities struggling to meet the rising costs of supporting the aging infrastructure. The President set aside slighly more than $200 million for wastewater treatment – a significant cut and the lowest funding level in the program’s history. To gain some perspective, consider Ohio – the Buckeye state needs at least $11.7 billion to deal with these problems.

“The contribution of the federal government to this infrastructure need is putrid. This budget you have submitted is an insult,” Voinovich told Johnson. “There has been a 15 to 20 percent increase each year – does anyone in your Agency take into consideration whether or not they [communities] can pay it? It seems like sometimes your agency is in a cocoon – it doesn’t know what is going on,” Voinovich’s voice trembled and he pounded the dais to emphasize his point.

In response to Voinovich’s grilling, Johnson said that while he agreed it was a very serious issue given that the EPA’s budget is $1.74 billion – “the EPAs total budget is not going to solve the nation’s waste water treatment problems.”

This is a national problem and each of the Senators took time to criticize and question the EPA Administrator for the lack of funds. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg (D) summed up the anger best when he asked, “But it doesn’t bother your conscience? It doesn’t bother you at all?” To that, Johnson replied, “No, it doesn’t bother me.”

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