Administrator Michael Regan, Remarks for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, As Prepared for Delivery
January 19, 2022
I’m excited to be here. Happy New Year to everyone. Thank you, Mayor, for the introduction – and for your leadership.
I’m glad that we’re meeting so early on into the New Year, because we have a lot of work to do together, and time really is of the essence.
We laid a strong foundation in 2021, especially considering the degree of agency rebuilding we needed to do at EPA. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished – from taking critical steps to confront climate change, to working toward rebuilding trust with underserved communities, to strengthening our nation’s water systems.
But the truth is, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. We have a long way to go to truly Build a Better America, so we’re going to keep the pedal to the metal in 2022.
I firmly believe that our success in confronting the biggest environmental challenges of our time will be determined by the strength of our partnership.
As a state Secretary for Environmental Quality in North Carolina, I saw up close how actions from EPA can either help or hurt local efforts. Let me be clear on that point – I recognize that you know your communities better than the federal government ever could. You are our eyes and ears on the ground. We need to hear from you. We need to leverage each other’s expertise. And we need to reenergize our working relationship to meet the challenges of today and those that lie ahead.
That’s why when I stepped into this role 10 months ago, I made it a priority to get out of Washington, D.C., to actually sit down with mayors in their communities, and to see firsthand the challenges you all are managing. Since being sworn in, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with more than 50 mayors, and I’m committed to getting to know even more of you in the year ahead.
The local level is where the rubber meets the road, and nowhere is that more clear than when it comes to water infrastructure.
As mayors, you are on the front lines of the water infrastructure crisis in America. You are managing aging infrastructure, the disastrous legacy of lead pipes, emerging cyber security threats, and the pressures exerted by climate change.
President Biden knows that water infrastructure is not an issue that state and local leaders can or should have to manage on their own. That’s why the President has made transforming America’s crumbling water infrastructure a cornerstone of this Administration’s agenda – and EPA is at the center of delivering on that mission.
EPA, along with our local partners, have proven that investing in water infrastructure is a win-win for public health and for economic development.
I’m proud to say that in the first year of the Biden-Harris Administration, EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program, or WIFIA, has invested more than $5 billion in communities across the nation. Taken together, these WIFIA-financed projects are expected to create over 36,000 jobs.
And today, I’m excited to announce $688 million in new WIFIA loans to the City of Baltimore, the City of Milwaukee, and Union Sanitary District in California.
- In Baltimore, $396 million will help replace water mains and modernize water infrastructure across the city – with a focus on supporting low-income communities and communities of color.
- In Milwaukee, $42 million will help improve stormwater management and reduce flood risk in historically underserved communities.
- And for the Union Sanitary District, $250 million will help reduce nutrient discharges to the San Francisco Bay and improve climate resilience and system reliability.
These investments prove that protecting the environment and strengthening the economy aren’t mutually exclusive – they go hand in hand. Funding in these three communities will spur an estimated 4,000 jobs in construction and operations.
These loans represent the power of a dynamic federal and local partnership – they demonstrate that we can work together to address some of the most challenging, persistent public health and environmental challenges of our time.
But our work is far from done.
The successes we’ve seen in 2021 are illustrative of the benefits that many more communities will see under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The infrastructure law provides the single-largest federal investment in our water infrastructure in history – $50 billion to replace lead pipes, protect treasured waters, and build drinking water and wastewater systems that are resilient to the climate crisis.
In 2022, EPA will be providing $7.4 billion of the infrastructure law funding to State Revolving Funds, with a lot more to come over the next five years.
Nearly half of this funding is available as grants or fully forgivable loans — removing barriers to investing in essential water infrastructure in underserved communities, across rural America, and in suburban and urban centers.
For more than 30 years, the SRFs have been the foundation of water infrastructure investments, providing low-cost financing for local projects across the country. But we know that many vulnerable communities, especially communities of color, have not received their fair share of federal water infrastructure funding. Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states have a unique opportunity to correct this disparity.
During our “Journey to Justice” Tour this past November, I saw up close the, frankly, shameful results of this disparity across the South.
As Mayor Lumumba will remember, I was set to meet with students and faculty at Wilkins Elementary School in Jackson, Mississippi. But on the morning of our visit, school wound up being cancelled due to low water pressure. And just hours after I visited Jackson’s OB Curtis Water Treatment Facility, the plant was forced to partially shut down, resulting in a boil water advisory for much of the city.
But these issues aren’t unique to Jackson. I’ve seen firsthand the flooding concerns Mayor Duggan is dealing with in Detroit, the longstanding water infrastructure needs Mayor Jones is facing in St. Louis, the lead contamination that Mayor Baraka has worked diligently to confront in Newark.
I’ve heard from parents in big cities, small towns, and rural communities across this country whose children have been exposed to lead in drinking water. They carry around the weight of that trauma every single day.
We can do better. It is our responsibility to do better.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom we commemorated earlier this week, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have a once in a generation opportunity to do what is right, to confront longstanding inequities, and to Build a Better America – one that is healthier, more inclusive, and protective of all people—especially our children.
The implementation of the infrastructure law calls for a strong partnership, and EPA is ready to work with our local partners to ensure that all our communities see and feel the full benefits of this investment.
That’s why in December, I sent a letter to every governor of every state sharing detailed information about our goals for using the water infrastructure money provided through the infrastructure bill. I also committed to issuing guidance in the coming months that will go into greater detail to help ensure that this historic investment reaches our most vulnerable communities.
For this EPA, environmental justice is not an add on or an afterthought – it is a central driving factor in all that we do. And I am committed to working closely with all of you, visiting more of you in your communities, and solving these longstanding challenges together.
This is an historic opportunity to change the lives of people who’ve been hurting for a long time and to show people that their government – federal, state, and local – works for them.
That’s what I came here to do – and I know that’s what you all came here to do. So, let’s get to work.