U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Doug Jones (D-AL) today introduced two bipartisan bills aimed at addressing the wastewater challenges faced by rural communities, low-income communities, and communities of color. U.S. Representative Terri Sewell plans to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives in the coming weeks.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than a million homes across the U.S. lack adequate plumbing, and nearly 200,000 lack a sewage system altogether -- meaning these homes do not have an adequate method for disposing of human waste. The proposals introduced today will help solve this challenge by expanding upon existing legislation to provide grant money that can be used to help fund wastewater systems for those in need.
"Many communities across the U.S. lack access to basic sewage systems, and disproportionately those communities are home to low-income individuals and people of color," Booker said. "I saw this lack of access first-hand when I visited Alabama last year -- I visited homes with straight-pipe septic systems that deposited raw sewage directly into people's yards. This issue goes to the core of the larger issue of environmental injustice in this country. These bills will go a long way toward providing better access to wastewater infrastructure for individuals who desperately need it."
"Having a functioning wastewater system is important when it comes to keeping families, individuals, and entire communities healthy. While many across the country can't even imagine not having ready access to a working wastewater system, that's not always the case in certain parts of rural states like West Virginia," Capito said. "This bipartisan legislation will deliver resources to help provide wastewater systems to those most in need of this critical infrastructure."
"For too long, people in rural Alabama and across the country have struggled to afford basic wastewater systems for their homes, leaving them at risk for serious and costly health consequences," Jones said. "No family should have to live in a home where wastewater is straight-piped into their own backyard. That's why I'm proud to work with Senators Booker and Capito, along with Congresswoman Sewell in the House of Representatives, on this legislation that will help people access the resources they desperately need to build this basic utility infrastructure that will improve the health and safety of their families."
One bill, the Residential Decentralized Wastewater Improvement Act, would establish a new program under the Clean Water Act to provide grants to low- and moderate-income households for connecting homes to existing wastewater infrastructure or installing or upgrading individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems.
The second bill would modify the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act by expanding the Department of Agriculture's Household Water Well System Grant Program to provide grants of up to $20,000 to low- and moderate-income households in rural areas for installing or maintaining individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems.
Both programs will provide grants to nonprofit organizations, which will then provide sub-grants to eligible individuals lacking adequate wastewater infrastructure.
Today's bills are part of Senator Booker's ongoing efforts to combat environmental injustice. Since his time as a tenant lawyer, City Council member, and mayor of Newark, Booker has seen first-hand how low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by poor air quality, tainted drinking water, and toxic Superfund sites. For example, Newark has one of the highest rates of child asthma in the state, and half of all New Jerseyans live within three miles of a Superfund site.
As mayor, Booker championed the cleanup of the polluted Passaic River, a federal Superfund site, and spearheaded the creation of community gardens that required planting in raised beds since the soil was too toxic to grow food for human consumption.
Last year, Booker authored the landmark Environmental Justice Act of 2017, which would strengthen legal protections against environmental injustice for communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities.