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The 117th Congress began in January 2021 amidst a global pandemic and the resulting economic shifts, health concerns and disruptions in people’s lives. A tumultuous election cycle had culminated in an unprecedented challenge to presidential election results and a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol itself. Against this backdrop, expectations were high for Congressional action to implement the new Biden administration’s agenda. Around environment and health issues, Congressional leadership carved out an ambitious agenda including taking long overdue action to address the climate crisis, reversing Trump administration rollbacks, rebuilding a decimated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), making progress on clean water and clean air safeguards, and investing in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure including water infrastructure.

Congress made significant progress in some of these areas. In November 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which is the largest investment in water infrastructure in U.S history. These funds will be allocated across a 5-year period and will include more than $20 billion for upgrading drinking water infrastructure and more than $12 billion for upgrading wastewater and stormwater systems and to support other water pollution projects. Clean Water Action has pushed for at least $45 billion in investment to replace lead service lines in the nation’s drinking water systems, which, when present, are the largest source of lead in drinking water. The IIJA included $15 billion in funding for this purpose, a significant down payment on this goal. An additional $5 billion in grants will be available to address “forever” PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

In August 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes historic investments to address climate change and to promote clean energy. This action on climate is long overdue and the momentum cannot stop here. Congress and the Biden Administration must continue to not only take additional meaningful action to reduce carbon emissions, but also help communities disproportionately impacted by fossil fuel extraction and processing. The 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 that the Act supports will help ensure we protect future generations from the worst climate impacts.

Action on critical environmental and health issues in the 117th Congress was limited by slim majorities supporting ambitious legislation to protect our nation’s water from pollution, to reduce toxic chemical exposures, and to aggressively address the climate crisis. It is more important than ever to elect U.S. Senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives who support action to protect the environment, address environmental injustice, and ensure healthy communities for all of us.

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