Wicker: Unfunded Mandates Should Not Drain Local Resources

Committee Hearing Highlights Federal Role in Water Services Across the Nation

April 11, 2016

State and local governments know better than Washington what is best for their communities and the people who live there. And yet, the struggle to comply with burdensome federal regulations continues, threatening to take away limited resources from important local priorities.

I have consistently opposed attempts by the Administration to saddle communities with intrusive requirements known as “unfunded mandates,” in which standards are imposed without financial assistance. States and localities should not have to foot a costly bill to implement shortsighted ideas by Washington bureaucrats or risk being penalized for noncompliance.

Regulations Have Major Impact in Mississippi

Overall, Mississippi is impacted by federal regulations more than most other states, ranking 11th in the nation according to a federal regulation and state enterprise (FRASE) index recently released by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Although applied nationwide, federal regulations have a greater impact in states where they affect specific industries that anchor the local economy. For example, regulations on Mississippi’s utilities industry – including electric power, natural gas, water, and sewage utilities – contributed significantly to the state’s overall ranking in the FRASE index.

Nationally, the rapid expansion of environmental rules has been the most significant contributor to increased federal regulation in recent years. In addition to utilities, other industries disproportionately affected by environmental regulation include chemical manufacturing, motor vehicle production, forestry, and petroleum production. It is no wonder that, according to the index, the impact of federal regulations on Mississippi was 17 percent higher than the effect on the nation overall.

Regulations Affect Affordability for Consumers

Congress has a responsibility to uphold the “Unfunded Mandates Reform Act,” which was passed in 1995 to help prevent legislation and regulation from leading to higher costs for states, local governments, and consumers. Hearings can provide useful forums for these discussions, as we saw recently in the Senate’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee.

As a member of the EPW Committee, I took part in a hearing on April 7 to address the federal government’s role in the affordability of water and wastewater infrastructure. Several local officials from across the nation testified about the financial burdens that are placed on cities and ultimately customers because of unfunded mandates and regulatory measures. These burdens are in addition to the costs required to operate and maintain water services and infrastructure. Each year, local governments already invest about $117 billion to provide water services.

Regulations Pose Unique Challenges for Rural Areas

In rural areas, complying with federal regulations can be particularly difficult, since communities often have limited access to resources and technical experts. With smaller populations, water services are likely to cost more per household – making regulatory increases even more burdensome per capita. These challenges are especially relevant in Mississippi, where small and rural communities make up more than 95 percent of drinking water systems. Federal mandates should not disrupt good-faith efforts at the local level to provide clean, affordable water.

At the end of last year, Mississippi Rep. Gregg Harper and I were successful in enacting a bipartisan bill to assist small and rural communities in complying with safe drinking water standards. The “Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act” was signed into law on December 11. It reauthorizes $15 million annually over the next six years to help small and rural public water systems get the technical expertise and training they need to meet regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Keeping state and local leaders in the driver’s seat is important to ensuring that the needs of communities and residents are being addressed. I will continue to support efforts that rein in Washington overreach and empower community leaders in the projects that affect them.