Aug. 18, 2010

10 minutes with Sen. Patty Murray

PATTY MURRAY is the senior U.S. Senator from Washington state. She graciously answers a few questions from the BC Water News team about the federal role in water and wastewater infrastructure improvements and how it relates to Washington state.

Name: Patty Murray

Title: U.S. senator (D-Wash.)

Background: Patty Murray is the senior U.S. senator from Washington. A Democrat, Murray was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, becoming Washington's first female U.S. senator. She is now the Senate Majority Conference Secretary. Murray is a senior member of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations, Budget, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), Veterans’ Affairs, and Rules and Administration Committees. She is on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and she is chairwoman of the Transportation-Housing Subcommittee and Employment Workplace and Safety Subcommittee on the Appropriations and HELP Committees, respectively.

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How do you see the water and wastewater industry serving U.S. communities?
Patty Murray: Clean drinking water and wastewater systems are critically important to communities across our country, and the builders and operators of those systems play an important role. Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have supported federal programs that help communities make investments in these types of infrastructure.

How do you see the current administration addressing national water quality concerns?
Murray: The Obama administration has shown great concern for water quality throughout the United States. That is why the administration and Congress included $6 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for State Revolving Funds for critical water and wastewater infrastructure.

EPA studies have shown a decrease in the water quality in the Puget Sound due to current land use practice and both point and non-point water discharges.  What actions do you think should be taken to preserve this natural resource?
Murray: In our state, we all know the economic, historic, cultural and recreational importance of a sustainable Puget Sound. The state of Washington has taken a leadership role in restoring the Puget Sound through the creation of the Puget Sound Partnership, with the goal of restoring and protecting this precious resource.

I have worked to protect the Puget Sound throughout my tenure in the Senate. In 1997, I worked with the late Congressman Jack Metcalf to create the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative to create a local advisory commission to address marine issues in the Puget Sound. I led the effort to legislatively authorize the commission in 1998, and I have secured more than $10 million for the Northwest Straits Initiative, which works to restore and protect marine habitat through community and grassroots support.

I have also worked side-by-side with Congressman Norm Dicks to secure federal funding for the Puget Sound Partnership, and I am proud that the Fiscal Year 2010 Interior Appropriations bill included $50 million for this important program. I am also an original co-sponsor of the Puget Sound Recovery Act (S. 2739), which has been reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The Kerry-Lieberman climate bill would have cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. There are opportunities for wastewater treatment systems to generate cleaner, renewable energy that could offset carbon emissions. What do you see as the tipping point for America to move toward using waste as a resource?
Murray: We know that climate change is real,

and that it presents a real threat, particularly to the Pacific Northwest. In order to address climate change, I believe it will take American innovation and ingenuity to create new solutions that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and utilize new sources of energy.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $6 billion for EPA’s State Revolving Funds for water and wastewater systems, and included provisions requiring a portion of those funds to go toward green projects.

The American Society of Civil Engineers report card rates both water and wastewater infrastructure at a "D-". Both sectors are in need of significant investment. What should the role of the Congress be in addressing this issue?
Murray: Unfortunately, many communities across the country are facing deteriorating water and wastewater infrastructure as federal and state requirements for those systems increase. Rural areas, such as those in Washington state, have been hit particularly hard.

Congress funds three major, federal programs to address water and wastewater infrastructure — the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Clean Water State Revolving Fund, and the USDA Rural Development Water and Wastewater Disposal program. I strongly support funding for these important programs.

Documentaries, magazine columns and news broadcasts have discussed aging infrastructure and climate change impacts on our water and wastewater assets, yet there is a lack of urgency. How could the water and wastewater industry better communicate with the public to give a better understanding of the infrastructure needs and potential risks?
Murray: As I travel around Washington state, I often hear from counties and local communities about their need to improve water and wastewater infrastructure. Whether it is because of regulatory requirements or physically crumbling infrastructure, there is a lot of need on the ground.

States, local governments, municipalities and the industry can continue to work together to alert elected officials, regulatory agencies, and the public about the need for additional funding for important infrastructure for water and wastewater systems.

What would you hope to have as your legacy?
Murray: I care deeply about Washington state and the people who live there. It is my hope that the work I am able to do helps our state remain competitive in a global marketplace, allows us to rebuild our economy during this difficult time, and improves the health and quality of life for the families who live here.

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