EPA Stimulus Sewer/Water Infrastructure Funds Flow Slowly

By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | December 2009 Vol. 64 No. 12

Congressional concern
With U.S. unemployment remaining stubbornly high and even increasing, members of Congress are starting to look askance at the EPA's statistics, which, for the end of October, report that about 15 and 20 percent of the DW and CW ARRA funds respectively have been put under contract. Funds not under contract by Feb. 17 are lost. The EPA actually dispenses the water funds only after the contracts have been let, the work has been done and the city or town presents an invoice to the agency. It then makes the outlay. Therefore, not only are the number of "let contracts" small, the dollar outlays are smaller still. As of Oct. 20, for example, EPA outlays for all its stimulus programs totaled $264 million, just 3.7 percent of EPA's $7.2 billion in ARRA funds, which besides the SRF grants, include grants for Superfund and other programs. At hearings in water resources and environment committee, Johnson noted, "Outlays are a lagging indicator." However, of the CWSRF stimulus funds awarded to Texas (Johnson's home state) based on the formula, only four percent were under contract by the end of October. For Arkansas, the percentage was zero.

Nancy Gelb, a top EPA official in charge of the stimulus sewer and drinking water funds, cited at the hearing progress the EPA has made in approving applications. But she didn't shy away from admitting significant problems had hobbled the program. "I have concerns about the ability of some states to meet the Feb. 17 deadline," she admitted. The National Governors Association has similar concerns. Its representatives met with Craig Hooks, Gelb's boss and the EPA assistant administrator at the office of administration and resources management, to voice their concern with EPA's failure to approve applications in a timely fashion. Hooks at about the same time sent an e mail to lead ARRA officials in every state offering assistance in overcoming whatever problems they were facing in getting stimulus funds committed to drinking water and sewer projects.