Two Sides of a Coin

May 1, 2005
Heads or tails? Flip a coin. Often the seemingly arbitrary manner in which policy gets decided in Washington, D.

Heads or tails? Flip a coin. Often the seemingly arbitrary manner in which policy gets decided in Washington, D.C., is frustrating-but makes just enough sense to keep you interested. Such was the case the week of the 32nd Annual Washington Forum of the Water & Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association in early May.

A Congressional subcommittee was debating funding for the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund, which the current administration recommended be cut from $1.3 million to $750,000. This is money that’s used to leverage state and local funds to finance wastewater infrastructure improvements, largely in small communities that otherwise could not afford them and, thus, often fail to meet federal water standards. It should be pointed out the EPA, which administers the fund, has found itself without its own subcommittee for Congressional oversight and is now subjugated within the Department of Interior budget along with the U.S. Forest Service. At the last minute, about $100,000 was added back to the SRF fund, sourcing it from unused funds elsewhere. WWEMA president Dawn Kristof was pushing to renew full-funding, but was doubtful since it would have to come from someone else’s line item in the department. An alternative is to push for lifting state caps on private activity bonds.

Mind you, the water and wastewater state revolving loan funds got caught up in earlier efforts to create a larger infrastructure trust fund, in which it was underscored that while some states used up all of their SRF allocations, others consistently had unspent money on the books.

I would add, though, that with some $4.2 billion being recycled annually by various states through these loan funds, it still makes them a very practical method of encouraging investment in future infrastructure needs. What doesn’t make sense is that, when the most recent ASCE Infrastructure Report Card gives the nation sliding grades and over $1 trillion in needs, we’re undercutting a proven program that works. Not investing now simply means paying more later-and more than likely getting less in return. I guess the concept of delayed gratification is lost on some.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite movies, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead,” a dark comedy that plays on the Shakespearean duo charged with killing Hamlet. The non-sensical exploration of logic and illogic is highlighted by a verbal tennis match: “Non-sequitor-Love-15.” It starts out with one of the lead characters flipping a coin repeatedly, amazed that it keeps landing without fail on tails. Too late they realize the only way any of this is possible is because they’re dead and failed in their mission.

The WWEMA Washington Forum, split into three themes-regulatory, international and finance-was very informative. While public financing may be under the gun, the competition from design-bid-build to design-build and pressing environmental regulations make the industrial marketplace look more promising. Expect additional attention on industrial stormwater and issues like nutrient loading on wetlands and watershed issues. With the federal government winning an appeal on CAFO proposals, it’s “full steam ahead on implementation” for the livestock industry, according to an EPA official. And litigation on 316B rules governing cooling water intake is ongoing with legal briefs from both sides expected in mid-June.

In other news, the Water Quality Association alliance with Aquatech proved to be a hit in Las Vegas. At 4,467 people, the first-time joint venture WQA Aquatech USA won the duo the best attendance ever at a WQA event on the heels of the association’s exhibition last year in Baltimore, which had the worst attendance in over a decade. Most everyone on the exhibit hall floor was all smiles, except for a few exclusively C/I equipment makers who were first time WQA exhibitors and seemed a bit like fish out of the water. Keeping their interest is what will make the alliance a success in the long run.

Carlos David Mogollón, Managing Editor

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