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September 22, 2009

Dundalk flood prompts Cardin "watershed moment"

As Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, once famously said: "Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before."

Perhaps with Rahm's rule in mind, Sen. Ben Cardin took the Senate floor this morning to urge action on a measure he introduced last spring that would make it possible for the federal government to channel more money to state and local governments for wastewater treatment and clean drinking water.

The trigger for Cardin's speech: last week's Dundalk flood, which the Democratic senator called "one more dramatic reminder that the water infrastructure of this country is in dire straits."

Gesturing at blownup news photos of Baltimore County's recently flooded streets and an earlier gusher from a broken Montgomery County water main, the senator predicted "more incidents like these in the future." The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that $6 billion a year will be needed to maintain the nation's aging wastewater infrastructure and $5 billion a year for drinking water, he said.

Then the pivot. After praising Congress and President Barack Obama for pouring $6 billion into water infrastructure as part of the $787 billion stimulus law, Cardin delivered a pitch for his plan.

"New investment alone is not enough," he said, somewhat immodestly describing his proposal as "a watershed moment in the legislative history of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act."

The Cardin measure, introduced in May and approved by the Senate Public Works committee, on which he serves, would make it possible for EPA to spend significantly more--a total of $20 billion for clean water and $15 billion for drinking water--over the next five years.

It would also address the problem of sewer overflows, which Cardin said dumps some 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater into waterways--including the Chesapeake Bay--each year.

Cardin urged Democratic leaders, who have yet to schedule a floor vote on his measure, to let the Senate act, so that the country "can keep water running through our pipes, rather than down our streets that we saw in Dundalk, Maryland, this past weekend."

Posted by Paul West at 11:30 AM |

Headlines from The Baltimore Sun
About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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