Environment

EPA Administrator Wheeler to visit Miami to tout new wastewater project

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will visit Miami on Friday to highlight funding for a wastewater treatment plant and tout President Donald Trump’s commitment to flood prevention in South Florida, U.S. officials said.

Wheeler’s visit to the Southern District facility comes as the Trump administration rolls out $6 billion in newly available loans under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, an Obama-era law that devotes federal dollars to state and local water and wastewater infrastructure projects. Trump’s EPA granted Miami-Dade County one of its first loans in 2017 toward the county’s effort to eliminate routine ocean discharges by 2025.

Jennifer Messemer, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, told McClatchy the low-interest loan at nearly $100 million would go toward the construction of 14 new injection wells at three wastewater treatment plants located along the coast.

“An additional benefit will be that these newly constructed wells will be resilient to storm surge and take into consideration data related to sea level rise,” Messemer said.

Trump visited Lake Okeechobee last week to view ongoing repairs at Herbert Hoover Dike, a leak-prone system protecting lands around the second-largest freshwater lake in the continental states. Lake Okeechobee has experienced record levels of water rise in recent years, endangering the region with potentially life-threatening flooding and blue-green algae exposure in the coming hurricane season.

The Miami project would increase the availability of reclaimed water for potential reuse and reduce sanitary sewer overflows for more than 2.3 million residents, an EPA official said.

“As highlighted by President Trump’s visit to Lake Okeechobee, and now Administrator Wheeler visiting Miami to announce a water infrastructure loan, the Trump administration has made clear not just with words but with actions that it prioritizes providing clean water to Floridians as well as all Americans,” Michael Abboud, EPA spokesman, said in a statement.

A pump station malfunction led to a massive release of wastewater in Northeast Miami-Dade. The county issued an advisory on Feb. 4, 2019 that recommends no swimming, fishing or boating in the area.

Wheeler has said in recent weeks that unsafe water, more so than climate change, poses the greatest environmental threat to Americans in the short-term and will be a focus of his tenure at the agency.

Conservationists have criticized the administration in recent weeks for proposing a reduction in funding for water restoration programs in his fiscal year 2020 budget, including cuts to the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration and South Florida Geographic Program.

Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.

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