January 24, 2022

As Infrastructure Money Flows, Wastewater Improvements Are Key

“A lot of people know that the bill isn’t just about drinking water, but the wastewater part is just as important,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, who helped draft the provisions after assisting two small cities in her state, Cahokia Heights and Cairo, upgrade failing sewer systems that flooded neighborhoods with raw sewage.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is administering the program, said in November that the first tranche of funding for drinking water and wastewater projects, $7.4 billion, would be sent to states in 2022, including about $137 million for Alabama.

Biden administration officials are confident the scale of the new spending — which represents a threefold increase in clean water funding over the next five years — will be enough to ensure poor communities gets their fair share.

“We want to change the way E.P.A. and states work together to ensure overburdened communities have access to these resources,” said Zachary Schafer, an agency official overseeing the implementation of the program.

But major questions remain — including whether individual homeowners without access to municipal systems can tap the money to pay for expensive septic systems — and the guidelines will not be ready until late 2022.

While the revolving loan fund is generally regarded as a successful program, a study last year by the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and the University of Michigan found that many states were less likely to tap revolving loan funds on behalf of poor communities with larger minority populations.

Alabama’s revolving loan fund has financed few projects in this part of the state in recent years, apart from a major wastewater system upgrade in Selma, according to the program’s annual reports.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/12/us/politics/infrastructure-environmental-racism-alabama-black-belt.html

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