Expect Federal Funding Cuts, New Regs In 2011

New Congress Will Impact Underground Infrastructure
By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | February 2011, Vol. 66 No. 2

The 2011 Congress will be one of the most unpredictable in many years, and probably one of the most explosive too, owing to the partisan friction occasioned by the Republican tide washing over both the House -- where the GOP took over -- and the Senate.

The Republican influence will be felt most prominently with regard to infrastructure funding, where past increased appropriations are undoubtedly a thing of the past. In terms of passing new laws and refreshing old ones, Republicans will probably push back against reauthorizations of pipeline safety and state revolving fund programs. Obama administration regulatory initiatives at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Occupational Safety (PHMSA) and Health Administration (OSHA) will be less affected by changes in congressional makeup.

Reducing the federal deficit will preoccupy Congress this year, at least rhetorically. But if Republicans and Democrats actually do what they say they will, and the deficit knife actually does get wielded, that would certainly have unappealing implications for key underground construction programs such as the EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water (DWSRF) State Revolving Funds.

The CWSRF received $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2010 and the DWSRF $1.387 billion. The last Congress punted on passing any federal budgets, including one for the EPA, for fiscal 2011 (that year actually started Oct. 1, 2010) before it left town in December. Instead, it passed a continuing resolution which leaves 2011 budgets at 2010 levels until March. "Across the board, the new Republican House majority is aiming to make the final FY11 federal budget lower than FY10, so the chance of an increase in EPA funding next year is remote," states Dan Hartnett, director of legislative affairs, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.