The Environmental Protection Agency is offering up to $6.5 billion in funding to support water infrastructure projects around the United States, prioritizing work that tackles the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS and promotes environmental justice.
The targeted funding, announced Monday, highlights two of the Biden administration’s policy goals. A total of $5.5 billion will be available through the EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act fund and a further $1 billion provided by the agency’s State Infrastructure Financing Authority program.
Through the two funding programs, the EPA provides low-cost supplemental loans to help advance nationally or regionally significant water infrastructure projects, such as drinking water treatment, desalination, drought prevention, wastewater treatment, and more.
“Water infrastructure provides the foundation for healthy and vibrant communities by delivering safe drinking water and returning our treated wastewater to the environment,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox in a statement.
“In too many communities, these essential pipes and pumps are decades old and need to be upgraded,” Fox said, explaining that the funding “can help revitalize our water systems while creating good paying jobs and delivering significant economic benefits, especially in underserved and overburdened communities.”
The EPA will prioritize allocation of the funds to projects in four areas: addressing PFAS and emerging contaminants, increasing investment in economically stressed communities, making rapid progress on replacing lead water service lines, and supporting water innovation and resilience, according to the statement.
President Joe Biden and EPA Administrator Michael Regan have repeatedly stated that a top priority for the agency is tackling water contamination from PFAS. The chemicals build up in humans and have been linked to cancer and reproductive harm, among other adverse effects. When Biden announced his fiscal year 2023 budget request for the EPA in March, it included some significant funding for addressing PFAS pollution.
The EPA is working on a host of PFAS actions, including a pending rule to define PFOA and PFOS – two notorious PFAS – as hazardous substances. The New Lede previously reported on competing arguments over that rule, with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other advocates seeking swift issuance of the regulation, and several industries seeking exemptions due to concerns about costs and liabilities they might face.
In addition to the focus on PFAS, the EPA says the $6.5 billion in funding aims to meet Biden’s “Justice40 Initiative” of promoting environmental justice, by ensuring that agencies deliver at least 40 percent of benefits from certain investments, including the water infrastructure funds, to historically underserve communities.
“Underserved communities, including many communities of color, bear a heavy burden when it comes to a number of environmental and public health challenges, including contaminated drinking water,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG’s vice president for science investigations. Referring to the EPA funding announcement, she said, “These new resources, if invested wisely, can help many struggling communities in the country address the critical infrastructure needs required to improve the quality of their tap water.”