Step in the Right Direction for American-Made Water Infrastructure

By Riley Ohlson
May 24 2018 |
Photo by Steve Johnson

New legislation will ensure our nation’s drinking water projects are Made in America.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on May 22 voted 21-0 on legislation boosting our water infrastructure. There’s a lot in there (252 pages if you’re starting to build out your summer reading list), but we’re especially excited about a provision requiring American-made iron and steel in our drinking water infrastructure.

Since 2014, water infrastructure funded through a variety of federal assistance programs* has included a preference for steel and iron manufactured here in the United States. But thanks to some kinks in the legislative process, federal assistance for clean water and another water infrastructure program had permanent preferences, but drinking water’s Buy America preferences had to be renewed every year.

Buy America for federal infrastructure projects has always been popular, and it makes sense. When we use taxpayer dollars on iron and steel produced in the U.S., we are maximizing the economic impact of that spending.

Not only are jobs created through the actual construction and at the mills and foundries that provide the iron and steel, but the impact is felt throughout the supply chain — from iron ore mines and processors, to mines and cokeries, to the shipping industry and all the small- and medium-sized businesses sprinkled across the country providing other equipment and inputs.

That’s why overwhelming majorities, across party lines, support using taxpayer dollars on American-made materials and products for large infrastructure projects. (And we’re not the only ones finding this).

Buy America featured even more prominently than usual in the 2016 campaign cycle, as multiple major party campaigns competed to be the biggest booster of American manufacturing – not to mention this speech by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in front of one the more unique backdrops of the 2016 cycle.

So you couldn’t blame us for thinking this annual dance might finally have been over back in fall 2016, when permanent language was included in Senate water infrastructure legislation. But apparently Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) didn’t get the memo, allegedly pushing to strip the language and causing quite the kerfuffle. Bipartisan pushback restored Buy America, but again, only for one fiscal year.

But this week, the Senate EPW committee included Buy America language that would make things permanent. It still has hurdles to clear, requiring a full vote of the Senate and successful passage on the House side (where another piece of water infrastructure legislation has Buy America language for five years), but we’re headed in the right direction.

As we continue to repair and rebuild our ailing water infrastructure, we’re one step closer to a permanent preference that will support thousands of good manufacturing jobs.

*For those keeping score, these programs are the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) and the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA).