Senate Democrats seek $600 million for Flint water crisis

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are seeking up to $600 million for the federal response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.

A group led by Michigan Sens. Gary Peters (D) and Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowGOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Week ahead: Flint aid fight shifts to House MORE (D) is sponsoring an amendment to the Senate’s wide-ranging energy bill that would release the funding.

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Of the total, up to $400 million would go to replacing and repairing water pipes in Flint, matching state funds, while $200 million would go to establish a “center of excellence” on lead exposure from drinking water.

“Ultimately, the approach is multi-faceted. You’ve got to look at the health of the people of Flint, you’ve got to look at education for the children that have been impacted, you’ve also got to look at the infrastructure,” Peters told reporters Thursday, flanked by Stabenow and six of their colleagues.

“The bottom line is that these pipes need to be fixed or replaced,” said Stabenow, calling the proposal “an appropriate response from the federal government” to the crisis.

The amendment would also let Michigan forgive loans Flint took out years ago for water infrastructure and require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to notify the public about certain public health emergencies, something that did not happen in Flint.

It’s the most comprehensive proposal yet on the federal level to the crisis in Flint, in which a money-saving switch in the city’s drinking water source caused pipe corrosion, leading to elevated levels of lead and other toxins.

Most of the responsibility for Flint has rested on the shoulders of local and state leaders. The state’s Senate unanimously passed a $28 million bill Thursday to provide some more immediate assistance to residents, like bottled water and health screenings.

But properly fixing or replacing all of Flint’s lead pipes is ultimately the only permanent solution to the problem, something that could cost $1 billion.

Senate Democrats settled on the $800 million estimate from certain outside experts for fixing and replacing pipes and are asking the state for half.

“It’s very clear that this is a state of Michigan problem,” said Peters. “The government of the state of Michigan created this catastrophe. You had a state-appointed emergency manager who was looking to save some money by going to the Flint River as a source of water.”

Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerThis week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Saudis hire lobbyists amid 9/11 fight Consumer bureau remains partisan target after Wells Fargo settlement MORE (N.Y.), the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, said he’s expecting Republican support for the measure, even if it doesn’t initially seem germane to the energy bill.

“This amendment’s need is immediate, and putting it on the energy bill is timely and appropriate,” Schumer said.

“We hope we will get bipartisan and broad support. That’s what Sens. Stabenow and Peters have been working for. They don’t want a political victory. They need the help,” he said. “We welcome our colleagues from the other side of the aisle joining us and joining us quickly in this issue.”