In-Depth: Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) introduced this bill to reduce harmful water pollution from snowmelt and rainfall runoff by increasing a voluntary grant fund designed to give local and state governments the flexibility to make conservation practice improvements aimed at decreasing water pollutants through partnerships within their communities:
“Clean water is vital to the daily health of Minnesotans and the beauty of our state, from the water we drink to the lakes we swim in. My first bipartisan bill in Congress will renew and increase the critical funding that communities need to keep Minnesota’s waters clean and safe for generations to come.”
After this bill passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Craig said:
“I am so proud to see this critical piece of legislation move forward. As Minnesotans, the four seasons have taught us that snowmelt and rainfall are nature’s vehicles that can increase pollutants in our local waters. We all have a desire to keep our waters clean which is why I’m proud to increase voluntary conservation opportunities for our communities.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) adds:
“Fixing our water quality issues needs to start at the source by preventing pollution to begin with. Our bipartisan bill will increase federal support to prevent agricultural runoff, assist with septic to sewer conversions, and address other forms of pollutants. Working together, we can tackle this from all angles and make a real difference for our waterways.”
Rep. Mast notes that, unlike some federal programs, 319 grants are tailored to local needs:
“This is a great approach that does not lend itself to what can sometimes happen in Washington, which is a D.C. one-size-fits-all approach. This allows for communities to go out there and try to repair those failures in their local waterways through this assistance.”
In a May 2012 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Section 319 Program wasn’t always achieving its desired results, sometimes due to lax EPA oversight and poor project selection:
“According to GAO survey results, 28 percent of projects did not achieve all objectives originally identified in the project proposal (e.g., implementing the desired number of pollution reduction practices), while many that did so still faced considerable challenges. About half such challenges were beyond staff control (e.g., bad weather or staff turnover), but the other half were challenges that generally could have been identified and mitigated before projects were proposed and selected for funding, such as gaining access to desired properties. In one state, for example, $285,000 in section 319 funds was to subsidize the cost to homeowners of repairing damaged septic systems. Once the grant was awarded, however, one homeowner signed up to participate. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) oversight and measures of effectiveness of states’ programs have not consistently ensured the selection of projects likely to yield measurable water quality outcomes. EPA’s 10 regional offices varied widely in their review of states’ work plans, which describe projects states plan to undertake in the upcoming year, and project selection criteria, which identify eligibility parameters for receiving section 319 funds.”
This bill passed the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure by a voice vote with the support of one cosponsor, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL).
Of Note: The White House’s 2020 budget recommends cutting all funding for 319 grants, as it did in 2017 and 2018. This is in line with the Trump administration’s overall hostility towards the EPA, which dates back to a Trump campaign pledge to scrap the EPA in its entirety. Trump’s efforts to minimize the EPA’s size and budget are in line with his dismissals of climate science and hostility toward environmental regulation.
However, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to zero it out, the EPA 319 Grant Program actually granted more money — $167.9 million — in 2017 than it did in 2016 ($163.4 million).
Mike Cox, a former climate change adviser for EPA’s Region 10, criticized the EPA’s direction under then-EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt when he left the agency, writing in a letter:
“The policies this Administration is advancing are contrary to what the majority of the American people, who pay our salaries, want EPA to accomplish, which are to ensure the air their children breath is safe; the land they live, play, and hunt on to be free of toxic chemicals; and the water they drink, the lakes they swim in, and the rivers they fish in to be clean.”
Clean Water Action notes, “Under Section 319, states, territories and tribes receive grant money that supports a wide variety of activities including technical assistance, financial assistance, education, training, technology transfer, demonstration projects and monitoring to assess the success of specific nonpoint source implementation projects.”
In a 2011 report, the EPA called nonpoint source (NPS) pollution the “leading source of water quality impairment in the United States,” accounting for nearly three-quarters of all impaired waters (over 33,000 waters). NPS pollution is also “the dominant source of pollutants responsible for impairment of many of our nation’s most significant waterbodies, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / CasarsaGuru)