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EPA Administrator Wheeler Delivers Remarks at G20 Water Ministerial

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WASHINGTON (September 12, 2020) — Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler delivered remarks at the G20 Water Ministerial where he emphasized that water issues present the most immediate environmental issue facing the world right now. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Good day distinguished colleagues and friends. I would first like to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for hosting us all today and also thank the Saudi Water and Agriculture Teams for their adaptability in managing and coordinating this important meeting of G20 Water and Agriculture Ministers.

The situation around the world regarding Covid-19 has challenged us all to be more adaptable and resilient. The Kingdom’s Water and Agriculture teams have shown great skill and ability in getting us to this moment.

The establishment of the new G20 Water Dialogue, a forum for collaboration and sharing of best practices may do more to improve international efforts on water than many of our other international collaborations.

As Administrator of the U.S. EPA, I believe water issues are the most immediate environmental issue facing the world right now. And when I say this, I mean three things: improving access to safe drinking water, preventing marine litter, and strengthening water infrastructure.

Right now, over 2 billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water and, as a result, lack access to proper sanitation. This lack of access to safe drinking water is the cause of up to three million deaths every year. According to the United Nations, nearly a thousand children die each day due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases.

This situation has to change, and I believe that by working together, we can really make a difference improving access to safe drinking water around the world. As the 20 largest economies, we have a responsibility to help the developing world in the 21st Century. Everyone should have access to safe drinking water.

The next dimension of our water challenges comes from marine litter, which has become a topic of global concern. Every year, between 11 and 28 billion pounds of waste ends up in our oceans, harming marine life and coastal economies. No nation can tackle this problem alone.

We must work together, along with stakeholders from all relevant sectors which is why I strongly support cooperation on marine litter in the G20. To be most effective in combating marine litter, we must address the problem before it gets to our oceans. The U.S. is taking a leadership role in this area. 

EPA’s Trash Free Waters program works directly with states, municipalities, and businesses to prevent trash from entering waterways, and capture trash when it has reached the water. We currently have over 50 partnership projects across our country, and we’re taking what we have learned and expanded it to communities in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America.

I know a lot of us have different pilot projects to combat the issue. It’s time that we move beyond the pilot phase and implement real solution. We know that six countries are responsible for over 60 percent of the problem. Let’s work together collectively to solve it.

And I’m sure everyone has water infrastructure needs. Estimates vary, but the U.S. could have up to $3 trillion dollars in needed investment in just the next 20 years. Numbers like this can be intimidating, but we have multiple tools to work with.

We have multiple funding mechanisms including municipal bonds, corporate debt, revenue bonds, State Revolving Fund loans and Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) funding.

WIFIA, which is only three years old, has closed on 26 loans totaling over $5.6 billion dollars in credit assistance, which in turn helped finance over $12.4 billion dollars in water infrastructure projects.

We would welcome further dialogue to share these best practices and encourage greater innovation worldwide.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for bringing this issue to the forefront of the G20.”