By John O’Grady
We are at the height of hurricane season as South Carolinians well know. After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the United States must not only help our sisters and brothers in Texas and Florida, but as a nation, become better prepared for future natural disasters.
That means preventing the many factors that have contributed to certain storm intensity of hurricanes and regional flooding, plus mitigating the impacts from climate change, rising seas, and several decades of unchecked urban sprawl leading to a host of environmental, economic, and social concerns. That also means investing in and strengthening America’s infrastructure.
If our president is determined to “make America great again,” we must first start repairing our failing infrastructure. I do not mean the administration’s narrow list of campaign applause-lines and temporary construction jobs like an alleged border wall and gas and oil pipelines that promise greater risk than reward to the American people. Rather, I am referring to a holistic infrastructure plan that is the backbone of the U.S. economy, including South Carolina’s bridges, drinking water, dams, navigable waterways, railways, airports, highways, public transit and wastewater treatment.
Industries and companies of all sizes in South Carolina are risking everyone’s safety by relying on the current state of America’s failing bridges, damaged drinking water plants, roads and tunnels in need of repair, and deteriorating wastewater treatment plants.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reports on America’s crumbling foundation and the 2017 analysis says taxpayers have been paying far less than half of the costs for decades, and continue to fail to close that gap. They recommend that Congress and the states “invest an additional $206 billion each year to prevent the economic consequences to families, business, and the economy.”
Just how bad is it? According to the ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, America’s cumulative GPA is once again a D+. The ASCE’s report for South Carolina is not yet ready. However, of South Carolina’s 964 bridges, 10.3 percent are structurally deficient.
There are 178 high hazard potential dams in South Carolina. In addition, the state has $1.8 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. Sixteen percent of South Carolina’s 76,250 miles of public roads are in poor condition, costing motorists $502 per year in additional repair costs. The state also has 16 hazardous waste sites on the Superfund National Priorities List.
Yet, despite these abysmal grades, this administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget continues to be insufficient for the nation’s infrastructure needs. Safer infrastructure takes money. There are no shortcuts. Despite conventional wisdom, the states alone cannot afford the long-overdue repair costs.
The 2018 Federal budget must properly fund and staff the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, particularly its Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), which finances infrastructure investment in wastewater, and has over $271 billion in identified needs over the next 20 years. Similarly, the U.S. EPA’s budget for the drinking water SRF needs $384 billion to be adequately funded.
The government must address infrastructure in a meaningful and bipartisan way. There is broad voter support for not only maintaining, but increasing federal spending across a variety of program areas.
Fifty-eight percent of all Americans want more spending on rebuilding America’s bridges, highways, and roads (that’s up 20 points from 2013).
Funding infrastructure now will put more Americans back to work and provide much needed improvements to our crumbling and worn foundation.
Please act now, Mr. President, or you may be liable for making South Carolina, and all of America fail.
John O’Grady is president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals #238 representing over 9,000 bargaining unit employees at the U.S. EPA.