Protecting Water in the New Administration

The following ideas were assembled with input from members of the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange (Exchange) Planning Committee and Exchange funders.

Background

The new political landscape will have implications for the environment, water, and green stormwater infrastructure. Over the next several years, the United States is likely to see a reduced federal role in environmental protection, creating a leadership vacuum. The EPA may minimize federal enforcement of key environmental regulations and the federal administration may attempt to roll back important environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act and its affiliate regulations for stormwater and combined sewer overflows are important drivers of green stormwater infrastructure on a local level. Without federal pressure, these drivers may lessen, leaving the future of green stormwater infrastructure — and the many environmental, social and economic benefits it provides — in question. On the bright side, opportunities exist that may help mitigate these impacts, and actions can be taken to ensure optimal water regulation and continued investments in cost-effective, high-performance water infrastructure, including green stormwater infrastructure. Success will require a coordinated approach among cities and their partners in water protection.

Opportunities

As discouraging as the situation may seem, opportunities exist that create hope for water protection. In fact, some of these opportunities are possible from the very volatility that is expected at the federal level with respect to environmental policy.

Policy Redundancy

Most states have their own water legislation and regulations that may provide a cushion for inconsistencies at the federal level. Many localities have enacted stormwater ordinances that require stormwater management for private development.  Existing policies at the state and local level may be less likely to be challenged in the near future, and thus provide the necessary drivers for clean water protection and green stormwater infrastructure. Still, many states also have an anti-environmental political climate, so redundancy alone is not a solution.

New Allies

Changes in environmental protection at the federal level may create more porous partisan “walls”, new coalitions, and more non-traditional partners to support clean water protection and climate change mitigation. Non-traditional allies of Exchange members and partners may include corporations whose supply chains could be disrupted by lack of access to inexpensive clean water, companies seeking policy stability in order to better predict costs, investors and finance firms who benefit from the issuance of green municipal bonds, and insurance companies whose bottom line is impacted by climate change. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of Americans polled earlier this year believe that climate change is a serious threat and that humans are the main cause of that threat. These Americans could be powerful partners to environmentalists — if they could be convinced to vote. Some local and state politicians, including Republicans, may seek to avoid another catastrophe like Flint, in which government administrators are under scrutiny for neglecting enforcement of drinking water regulations. These government officials may be motivated to keep a focus on local and state policies that protect water quality.

Actions

There are many actions that Exchange members and their partners can take to engage these new allies, to maintain a focus on optimal environmental protection and, and to re-establish drivers of stormwater management and green stormwater infrastructure.

Change the vernacular

Appeal to a wider audience by changing the language around green stormwater infrastructure from “triple bottom line” and “environmental protection” to “safe drinking water,” “flood mitigation,” “security,” and “jobs creation.” Emphasize green stormwater infrastructure as high performance.

 

Support WIFIA and SRF

Write in support of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) to accelerate investment in US water and wastewater infrastructure. Public comments are due on February 17, 2017. Seek out and support other bipartisan initiatives that emphasize jobs creation and improved infrastructure. Ask EPA to streamline State Revolving Fund procedures for green stormwater infrastructure in order make it more practical and accessible to cities.

 

Focus on jobs creation

Compile existing data and studies on the impacts of green stormwater infrastructure on jobs creation and compare the benefits of modern approaches with more traditional ones.

 

Gather examples

Gather and relay specific examples of displacement and lack of security from flooding and extreme weather — and what can be done to prevent them.

 

Create a public movement

Use new allies to influence local and state elections to ensure policy redundancy and funding of environmental programs. Focus on a public movement to get would-be environmentalists to vote. Key actions include developing a compelling message/vision, tailoring the message to your audience and being clear what do you want them to do, identifying allies and partners, and getting your message out.

 

Think long-term

Cities that are making major infrastructure upgrades now need to consider the impacts of climate change. This will help ensure that capital investments are useful far into the future, buffering cities from future changes in federal funding or policies that could impact local decisions.

 

Take a note from the energy sector

Identify and support the “California” of the water sector. In recent history, California, and not the federal government, has been setting the highest energy standards that have provided a template for other states. The water sector should take note by seeking its own state and local champions.

 

Explore innovative federal policy

Consider advocating for federal tax cuts for property owners that implement GSI using the energy sector and local policies as models. This economic based approach may have a bipartisan appeal.