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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Johnson, Paying for Sustainable Water Infrastructure: Innovations for the 21st Century, Atlanta, G.A.

03/21/2007
Thank you, Jimmy (Palmer), for the introduction. It’s a pleasure to join you and Governor Perdue to open this exciting conference.

I want to welcome all of the participants as we launch a new national dialogue about our water infrastructure.

As you may know, tomorrow is World Water Day. So I think it’s appropriate that for the next few days, our country’s water leaders are working together to help preserve this precious resource for future generations of Americans.

Over my 26 years as a public servant, I’ve witnessed what can be achieved when passionate people unite to face an environmental challenge. And today, we see the fruits of collaboration all around us. Our air is cleaner, our water is purer, and our land is better protected than just a generation ago. The Bush Administration is proud to work with our partners to keep our environmental progress flowing into the future.

As we move forward and advance environmental ethics like sustainability, together we are not only building on our nation’s environmental accomplishments, we are creating a lasting legacy for our children and grandchildren.

Part of this legacy is our work to shift America into a “green” culture.

Today, instead of having only 17-thousand EPA employees working to protect the environment, we now have over 300 million Americans as environmental partners. Americans from all sectors of society – communities, businesses and individuals – have begun to embrace the fact that environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility … not just the responsibility of EPA.

At my Agency, we continue to do our part. By focusing on cooperation over conflict … education over regulation … and by equipping this growing army of environmental stewards with the tools they need to meet today’s challenges, EPA is helping America shift into this green culture.

For most of EPA’s history – now well into its fourth decade – we have focused on regulatory approaches to improve the environment. This has created solid, though increasingly incremental gains in environmental protection.

Yet, we all know that the environmental challenges of the 21st Century cannot be addressed by federal regulations, or federal funding alone. Our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure is not just an EPA challenge, or a local challenge – it’s everyone’s challenge.

That is why EPA is committed to working in collaboration with our state and local partners to hand down to the next generation a healthier, safer, more prosperous world.

Keeping America’s water infrastructure both sustainable and secure is one of EPA’s top priorities. And we appreciate the support and leadership of everyone in this room for helping us meet this critical goal.

Today, we are here to talk about our collective challenge and responsibility to finance our nation’s clean water infrastructure. Building on our success of the latter half of the 20th Century, we must step up to the plate and create truly sustainable infrastructure systems for the 21st century.

At EPA, we think of water infrastructure financing in waves of progress.

If we look back at the innovations of the last generation, the first wave ushered in the historic Clean Water Act in the early 1970s in response to the crisis facing the degradation of our waters.

The second wave was another historic moment in transitioning to the State Revolving Fund used to stretch the federal investment. The Drinking Water and Clean Water SRFs are now, and will continue to be, critical tools for capital financing of our nation’s wastewater infrastructure. But they are far from the only tools.

Other aggressive and innovative actions and technologies are crucial to “closing the Gap.” Many of you here are demonstrating leadership by taking actions to develop, advocate and implement new approaches to finance.

These innovations are the upsurge of a third wave – that is bringing in new ideas about innovation, sustainability and greater private sector participation. EPA is helping lead this third wave of water infrastructure financing and investment.

As a first ripple at the federal level, the Bush Administration is proposing a bold new tool – Water Enterprise Bonds -- to accelerate and increase investment in the nation’s water infrastructure. These will be private activity bonds for public-purpose drinking water and wastewater facilities.

EPA will continue to explore and implement innovative ideas, remove barriers and create incentives to foster truly sustainable water infrastructure investment and management. However, we need our federal, state and local partners to commit to the hard work ahead.

We are all keenly aware that our current and future infrastructure needs are significant. And the enormity of our needs is magnified when you consider how fast the U.S. is growing. The 2000 census showed that the population increase between 1990 and 2000 was the largest in U.S. history. And we’re not slowing down. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050 our population will reach 420 million.

Recognizing the impact of such growth is vital to the sustainability of our water infrastructure and ability to provide clean water resources. Clearly, we need smart strategies for managing this kind of growth. We know that how we develop our cities and towns today will have an impact on the environment tomorrow.

EPA will be participating, but as I’ve mentioned, the water infrastructure challenge is everyone’s challenge.

A collaborative approach across all levels of government, which engages all public and private sector stakeholders, is likely the only way to address this most pressing challenge.

It will also require a great deal of public education and public acceptance. For generations, Americans have enjoyed the benefit of a system that provides clean, safe and inexpensive water. We’ve taken it for granted – and as a result, the value of water and our water infrastructure has diminished.

As leaders in this area, one of the challenges we face is educating the public about the value of water. It truly is the lifeblood of our bodies, our nation, and our well-being. We must help people realize that investments in water infrastructure are investments in their communities, and that customer rates must reflect that value.

One of our key partners in meeting these water infrastructure challenges are the State Environmental Agencies. With many of EPA’s programs delegated to the states, the State Agencies are on the front lines – working directly with the stakeholders who can bring about changes to our utilities, systems and communities.

Just as the EPA Regional offices work to integrate the solutions we identify and implement new approaches into existing efforts, we are looking to the states to do the same. This combined effort will maximize our ability to effect change and move us towards more sustainable practices.

EPA’s comprehensive strategy – in addition to innovative financing – includes developing more productive and sustainable utility practices, attributes and tools. A good example of our work in this area is the ongoing collaboration with utilities to ensure that operations and infrastructure are effectively managed.

To this end, EPA and six major water Associations will soon agree on a set of Attributes of Effectively Managed Utilities. This agreement will promote suggested utility performance measures and encourage the use of these tools by utilities all around the country. By establishing a common utility management framework, we can help ensure utility operations are sustainable in the future.

Finally, we are establishing improved water efficiency practices and adopting “green infrastructure” solutions. As I said, America is shifting to a “green” culture – where companies, organizations and individuals are accepting the fact that environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility. By spreading the ethic of water efficiency, EPA is working to equip our eager army of citizen conservationists with the tools to make smart water choices.

One of those smart solutions involves providing Americans the tools to make informed decisions on how we use our precious water resources.

As you all know, last June we announced the development of a new program for water efficiency that saves money and makes sense. EPA’s WaterSense program promotes efficient use of the nation’s water supply by identifying products and practices that reduce water bills and maintain high environmental standards – all without compromising performance.

Today, Americans are embracing products that are fuel efficient and energy efficient – and now they can choose products that are water efficient. WaterSense provides families and businesses with simple ways to save money and water, while ensuring certified products perform at least 20 percent more efficiently than their inefficient counterparts.

The WaterSense program has begun recognizing certifications that advance the principles and applications of water-efficient irrigation. We’ve also recently created final specification for a new generation of high-efficiency toilets. And in the near future, EPA plans to partner with manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of other high-efficiency plumbing fixtures.

By promoting advances in efficiency through WaterSense, EPA is helping keep the benefits of clean, sustainable water flowing into the future.

Just as individual action is only a part of the solution to our infrastructure challenges, so too is the role of the federal government. While federal financing will remain important, it cannot be the only solution.

We are counting on each of you to identify innovative ways to help us achieve our objectives in tackling sustainable infrastructure. For the next few days, I challenge you to work together, break down the barriers, brainstorm new ideas, and reinvigorate your commitment to implement changes needed to create a truly sustainable water infrastructure for the 21st Century.

Once again, I want to thank you for your commitment, and for working with us to develop smart solutions to our nation’s water challenges. The health and prosperity of our nation is dependent on the sustainability and security of our water resources. Thankfully, working with leaders like you, we will keep our nation’s environmental progress flowing into the future.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing about the inspiring ideas and innovations that spring from this forum.