Benjamin Grumbles, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Water, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the Bush administration’s current fiscal priorities – focusing on homeland defence and overseas military operations – meant it could not support the committee’s Water Investment Act of 2002.

The proposal seeks to set aside $35 billion over five years to modernize the operation of state revolving funds (SRF) for water pollution control and to ensure that the funds distributed reflect water-quality needs.

The White House position was revealed during the first of two scheduled hearings this week in the Environment Committee.

Passing such a bill is a priority for the Environment Committee, with the chairman, independent Senator Jim Jeffords, maintaining that he plans to have it ready for floor debate before the 4 July recess.

“Are you indicating that clean water and drinking water are not priorities of this administration?” Jeffords asked. Grumbles responded that the revolving loan funds in the proposal are “one tool” for the federal government to use in addressing infrastructure needs. He said the asset management and innovative funding in the proposal are things the Bush administration does support. But Grumbles said the EPA would not make the case that increased funding for water infrastructure is needed as a matter of homeland security.

That could mean there will be major political struggle over the amount of money set aside for infrastructure issues. Many industry groups have tried to tie infrastructure needs in with security issues, hoping the funds would both upgrade facilities across the nation and make them safer against potential acts of terrorism.

According to the Washington Post, leading congressional Democrats yesterday criticized the Pentagon’s $379 billion budget request and its open-ended war on terrorism, voicing their strongest criticism of a proposed $48 billion increase in defence spending. That money, several Congressman say, could be put to better use elsewhere.

As lawmakers consider linking the SRF to the needs survey, the General Accounting Office on Monday released a report that scrutinizes the agency’s drinking water needs assessment. The GAO analysis said that while the EPA has taken a number of steps to validate the data it collects, the agency still needs to calculate the level of precision achieved by its report and determine what implications, if any, its findings have on the methodology to conduct future needs assessments.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie