Industry officials also don’t like the budget request. “The administration has really shown nothing but hostility for underground water and wastewater infrastructure,” says Eben Wyman, National Utility Contractors Association vice president for government relations. “We are getting half the funding for clean water at a time when existing needs are documented by EPA at $202.5 billion.”

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, testifying recently before several congressional committees, defended the $555- million Clean Water SRF request. He argues the proposal would put the administration on target to reach its long-term goal of $3.5 billion in total Clean Water revolving funding. He also says EPA requested a reduction for the program because of “higher than anticipated funding levels in previous years.”

Johnson EPA administrator defends requested reductions in the FY 2009 budget but has faced tough questions from appropriators.

Johnson hasn’t convinced House interior and environment appropriations subcommittee Chairman Norman Dicks (D-Wash.). “We have to figure out a way to help meet the needs of our communities, Dicks said at a Feb. 26 hearing. “Wastewater facilities all over the country are outdated and need to be replaced.”

In the Senate, Wayne Allard (Colo.), the top Republican on the interior appropriations panel, says he supports efforts to curb spending, but adds, “I am concerned that the bulk of the reduction in the EPA’s budget is in the form of a $134-million cut to the Clean Water SRF.” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) says the SRF cut is “not right, and this is why we’re going to restore it in a bipartisan way.”

Susan Bruninga, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies’ director of legislative and public affairs, says she thinks it’s likely that Congress will restore some SRF funding. But she also says it’s unclear how much will be added and whether the eventual amount will be enough to meet current needs. “The administration always proposes a low number, and Congress always seemed to bump it back up to around $1 billion, but they didn’t last year,” she says. Congress last year appropriated $689 million for SRFs, down 36% from 2007.

ongressional lawmakers from both parties aren’t pleased with the Environmental Protection Agency’s $27.7-billion budget request for fiscal year 2009, down 3.2% from this year’s funding. Legislators are particularly chagrined by the proposed 20% reduction in aid to Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), which help pay for wastewater treatment plants and other projects. Lawmakers say they plan to restore some of the money the Bush administration wants to cut. Industry also is hoping for progress in reauthorizing the Clean Water SRF program, something that last occurred in 1994. In March 2007, the House passed a bill authorizing $14 billion over four years. Bruninga says a comparable Senate bill could be introduced soon, perhaps this spring.