HARRISBURG – Gov. Edward G. Rendell said the federal government has reduced financial support for an important water quality improvement program by nearly half-a-billion dollars over the past three years, with additional cuts proposed in President Bush’s fiscal year 2009 budget.
These cuts, noted the governor, are making it more difficult to keep pace with the needs of Pennsylvania’s aging infrastructure, and they are putting a greater burden on states and local municipalities.
“Continued cuts at the federal level are making it more and more difficult to keep pace with the work that’s needed to ensure we have reliable systems in place that deliver dependable services,” said Rendell. “The commonwealth alone has suffered a 50 percent cut in the federal funds we had received previously to support water infrastructure. Without that needed support, our economy, environment and quality of life will suffer.
“I was disappointed last week to see President Bush’s proposed budget for next year included $330 million in cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—largely aimed at water and sewer projects. This is unacceptable, especially for us in Pennsylvania and other Chesapeake Bay watershed states that are working to meet the federal cleanup mandates. As Congress considers this budget proposal, I urge them to restore funding to this critical program; otherwise, our ability to tackle the serious environmental and economic infrastructure challenges facing our communities is jeopardized.”
In order to address this funding shortfall, the governor signaled his intent to sign an executive order that will focus on finding solutions to Pennsylvania’s drinking water and wastewater system needs, including new funding options and non-structural alternatives to capital upgrades, such as nutrient credit trading, water re-use and conservation.
The executive order will establish the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Task Force, which is to develop a report by Oct. 1, 2008, that analyzes issues related to cost-effective and sustainable investment in the state’s water and sewer infrastructure. The report also is to provide recommendations and financing options to support water-related services in the governor’s fiscal year 2009-10 budget proposal.
“A recent survey found that Pennsylvania is facing nearly $11 billion in unmet drinking water infrastructure needs and at least $7.2 billion in unmet wastewater infrastructure needs, and that does not even take into account our federal Chesapeake Bay nutrient reduction obligations,” said the governor. “Most of this outstanding need comes from chronic underfunding of operations, repair, rehabilitation and replacement work. The task force we’re convening will not only look at the funding issues, it will also look at how we can utilize non-structural alternatives in sewer and water planning efforts to ensure a sustainable, cost-effective system.”
The task force will be comprised of representatives of the administration, General Assembly, academia, the state’s Office of Consumer Advocate, as well as local government and municipal associations.
As part of his fiscal year 2008-09 proposed budget, Rendell launched the Rebuild Pennsylvania initiative. The plan calls for accelerating $200 million for bridge repairs, $13 million for flood control projects, $12 million for repairs to state-owned dams, $10 million for new rail freight projects and $5 million for aviation projects in FY 08-09. It also includes $22 million in new General Fund investments for local dam repairs, flood plain mapping and infrastructure for business development.