An actor on my favorite TV show once uttered the line, “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.” We can find that ladder these days in Washington where there are plenty of people acting in ways inimical to our industry. There are those who want to eliminate Energy Star and the WaterSense program, which have formed the basis of our industry’s research, product development, manufacturing and sales for decades. And yet there is chaos in the agencies and in Congress, pitting liberals against conservatives against ultra conservatives. We can use that chaos.
I recently attended a Washington meeting of the Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition (PILC) that drew the top paid execs and top elected members of all industry groups — contractors, wholesalers, manufacturers, engineers, water utilities, code bodies and other NGOs. PILC is a great platform for collective action and advocacy, such as, for example, safe drinking water.
Among the action items was a sign-on letter recognizing the 10th anniversary of WaterSense. That’s a motherhood and apple pie gesture for the industry, which has been well served by WaterSense. I signed the letter. I don’t expect it will do a damn bit of good with EPA. Plumbing Manufacturers International asked for authorization of WaterSense when it met with Sarah Greenwalt at EPA, whom they reported asked good questions, took notes, and didn’t promise anything. Greenwalt, EPA senior counsel, was general counsel for the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General during EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's tenure as Oklahoma AG, and I don’t believe that authorizing another EPA program is high on their agenda.
EPA would see its budget cut by $2.6 billion, a 31.4 percent reduction, under the proposed FY18 budget put forth by President Donald Trump. The administration wants to cut EPA down to its core functions of drinking water and wastewater and sewage disposal. PILC representatives heard from Andrew D. Sawyers, the director of the EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management, who oversees the management of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, the Clean Water Act’s mechanism for the permitting of municipal and industrial discharge into surface waters of the U.S. Sawyers said he fully supports the President’s budget. My first thought was, “There’s a survivor,” followed by, “Of course, he does. His budget isn’t being cut.”
PILC can make gains with this administration and in Congress, however, when it comes to infrastructure spending. President Trump is proposing $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, although only $200 billion would come directly from the federal government. The other $800 billion would be the responsibility of cities, states, and corporations in public-private partnerships.
Dain Hansen, senior vice president of government relations for the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials, presented draft infrastructure proposals for both PILC and the High Performance Building Coalition. Even though they’re just draft proposals, they’re a pretty darn good starting point.
Among the proposals are that drinking water must be addressed in infrastructure bills, WaterSense should be authorized (we’ll see), National Institutes of Standards & Technology should conduct water efficiency research, and rebates from water utilities for water conservation measures should be tax exempt. The High Performance Building Coalition would similarly lobby for WaterSense and Energy Star to be funded, and that $2.257 billion be budgeted for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.
There are multiple feuding factions in Congress, but almost all of them can be persuaded on infrastructure investment. Let’s climb the chaos ladder.