GOP, Democratic Platforms Present Contrasting Visions for Infrastructure

The 2016 Republican and Democratic Party platforms, released at each of the party’s national conventions, convey vastly different ideas and visions for the future of water infrastructure needs in the United

The 2016 Republican Platform, released last month at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, addresses few details about water infrastructure needs or policy objectives in the coming years. But the document does take a stance against EPA and regulations issued by the agency in recent years.

Environmental regulations are especially targeted for criticism throughout the document. The platform labels EPA’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule a “travesty” amid warnings that it would extend “the government’s jurisdiction over navigable waters into the micro-management of puddles and ditches…and other privately-held property.” The platform states that WOTUS must be “invalidated,” noting that state waters, watersheds and groundwater must be the purview of the sovereign states.

“We will enforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act, not it’s distortion by EPA regulations,” the platform reads.

Despite criticism, the platform praises the environmental progress made by the United States in recent decades and notes that the environment is improving and that the quality of air and waterways is much better than it was even a few decades ago.

In recognition of the progress, the GOP platform calls for a shift of environmental regulatory responsibility. “We propose to shift responsibility for environmental regulation from the federal bureaucracy to the states and to transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission, similar to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with structural safeguards against politicized science,” the platform states.

In the past, some Republican lawmakers have called for abolishing EPA and cracking down on excessive federal regulations. There likely remains little chance of any policies noted in the platform gaining traction in Congress.

Meanwhile, the 2016 Democratic Platform approved at the party’s convention last week puts a strong focus on investing in water and wastewater systems and endorses a number of policy priorities intended to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure.

A major plank of the Democrats’ platform is “Building 21st Century Infrastructure,” which calls for “major federal investments to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and put millions of Americans back to work.” Water infrastructure is prominently featured with pledges to “build 21st century energy and water systems” and to “protect public health and safety by modernizing drinking and wastewater systems.”

The platform goes on to endorse several specific policies to attain these goals, such as creating a national infrastructure bank, permanently authorizing Build America Bonds and preserving the tax-exempt status of municipal bond interest.

Inspired in part by the water crisis in Flint, Mich., the platform pledges to “make it a national priority to eradicate lead poisoning.” Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has made Flint’s water crisis a central part of her pitch to black voters, visiting Flint in early February. Many Democrats, including former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, have called for the resignation of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican.

The Democrats also label climate change as “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time” and note the threats posed by rising seas, record drought, more intense storms and flash flooding. But while the platform commits to creating a clean energy economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it only mentions climate resilience and adaptation in the context of delivering aid to developing countries. The platform does not touch on the need for similar domestic adaptation efforts.

As with most party platforms, the recent Republican and Democratic documents should be seen as a high-level overview of the party’s vision, rather than an agenda of specific policies.

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