EPA’s Pruitt calls on WIFIA to leverage funding for lead removal

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt hopes to use the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program to support as much as $4 billion worth of funding annually for communities to remove lead service lines.

Pruitt’s statements to members of Congress came last week during the course of two hearings before a pair of House committees convened to examine EPA’s FY19 budget request.

Much of Pruitt’s appearances before the House Environment Subcommittee and the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee focused on recent controversies surrounding the EPA chief. Speaking on policy issues, the administrator repeatedly highlighted EPA’s goal of eradicating lead from drinking water within 10 years. Pruitt told lawmakers he believes this goal can be achieved “largely through the utilization of [funding from the] WIFIA program.”

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Pruitt’s written statement to the Environment Subcommittee referenced the Trump administration’s FY19 request of $20 million for WIFIA, which Pruitt said could “provide up to $2 billion in credit assistance” and support $4 billion in total infrastructure investments when local matching funds are factored in. Pruitt told lawmakers on the panel that he hopes to “prioritize funding in the WIFIA program” for lead service line replacement projects.

However, when releasing a Notice of Funding Availability for the next round of WIFIA funding earlier this month, EPA said all types of projects eligible for WIFIA assistance will be considered. In fact, the WIFIA statute requires EPA to “ensure a diversity of project types and geographical locations” are selected – a requirement that would likely prevent the agency from focusing disproportionately on lead service line replacement efforts.

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Pruitt’s testimony did not shed light on EPA’s plans for standing up a new $10 million lead service line replacement grant program funded by Congress through the FY18 omnibus bill. The new program is intended to help communities and low-income households offset costs associated with fully replacing lead service lines.

Recently, EPA announced a series of grants to help research lead in drinking water. Pruitt called exposure to lead in drinking water systems “one of the greatest environmental threats we face as a country,” upon announcement of the research grants.

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