Election 2012: Republicans, Democrats Push for Investment In Water Infrastructure in Policy Platforms

September 13, 2012

WEF Resources & Efforts

Reproduced with permission from Daily Environment Report,
174 DEN A-2 (Sept. 10, 2012).
Copyright 2012 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com

By Amena H. Saiyid

Republicans and Democrats for the first time have adopted language in their policy platforms that acknowledges the need for investment in the nation’s aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

The language on water infrastructure was included at the behest of the Water Environment Federation, which actively lobbied both parties, WEF President Jeff Eger told BNA Sept. 6.

The 2008 and prior policy platforms of both parties omitted mention of water infrastructure, though they touched on the need for building roads and bridges, Eger said. Previous policy platforms have emphasized the need for rebuilding roads and bridges but have overlooked water infrastructure and the value that water provides to this economy, he said.

“We went back and looked at the 2008 policy platform and were frustrated by the lack of attention to water,” he said.

Investment in water infrastructure is badly needed. An American Society of Civil Engineers study estimated that there will be an $84 billion gap by 2020 between what is being spent on wastewater and drinking water infrastructure and what is being spent on other national priorities(06 DEN B-5, 1/11/12). The society has given a failing grade to the nation’s water infrastructure.

And WEF and other groups are frustrated with congressional inaction over financing water infrastructure.

WEF sent separate letters in July to Democratic Party Chairman Todd Strickland (D) and Republican Party Chairman Robert McDonnell (R) emphasizing that investment in water infrastructure will ensure a healthy environment and also jobs for Americans.

‘Perilous’ Condition

The Republican policy platform said, “What most Americans take for granted—the safety and availability of our water supply—is in perilous condition.”

Moreover, the Republican platform noted that engineering surveys have reported “crumbling drinking water systems, aging dams, and overwhelmed wastewater infrastructure” and sought a federal, state, and private partnership to bring investment in these areas.

The Democrats, who adopted their 2012 policy platform Sept. 4, pledged to fight for measures “that would strengthen the recovery and create jobs now, including keeping teachers and first responders on the job, putting construction workers back to work by investing in our roads, bridges, schools, and water supply, helping families refinance their mortgages and save hundreds of dollars a month, cutting taxes for small businesses that invest and hire, and putting veterans back to work.”

The Democrats’ policy platform makes several references to the importance and need for clean water as a critical resource. Moreover, the Democrats’ platform said it would support measures to strengthen drinking water and wastewater systems in rural America as well.

Tim Williams, WEF’s legislative policy director, and Eger told BNA that they hope the inclusion of this language will “spark national dialogue” among candidates for Congress and the White House.

Doubts on Impact of Platform Language

However, political scientists who study policy platforms doubt whether the adoption of language in policy platforms will have any meaning beyond the elections. Jennifer Victor, George Mason University assistant professor of political science, told BNA Sept. 6 that the adoption of a particular interest group’s language is “unlikely to spark a national dialogue.”

“Rather, if an interest group successfully can influence the content of a party platform, it’s a national victory that the group can point to,” Victor said. “It may not be a policy victory. But it’s an organizational victory for the group. The group can claim a victory to its membership.”

Mark Wrighton, associate professor of political science and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Southern Mississippi, has a slightly different take on the efficacy of policy platforms. He told BNA Sept. 6 that both parties agreed to the language because of elections. He said local politics will influence national platforms in tight races.

“Water is important this cycle because Nevada and Colorado are up for grabs,” he said. Candidates in those states, he said, can point to their platforms and say, “Look. We care about water.”

“It’s as simple as that,” Wrighton said. “Gaining five electoral votes in a tight election, as this one is turning out to be, can be significant.”


For More Information

The Democratic policy platform is available at http://assets.dstatic.org/dnc-platform/2012-National-Platform.pdf.

The Republican 2012 policy platform is available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/104221532/2012-Gop-Platform.

The Water Environment Federation letters to party platform chairmen are available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=phey-8xwlsx.

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