Water bill with Flint aid moves ahead in Senate

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The Senate moved closer on Monday to wrapping up work on $9.4 billion waterways bill that provides emergency funding for lead-contaminated communities such as Flint, Mich.

The upper chamber agreed, by a 90-1 vote, to end debate on a substitute amendment to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes dozens of waterways projects around the country.

Bill sponsors are putting together a manager’s package of bipartisan amendments, which is likely to steer clear of any controversial provisions in an effort to advance the legislation swiftly this week.

{mosads}Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said they considered around 35 provisions for the package and “hope to get consensus to adopt [the package] shortly after the cloture vote tonight.”

Committee aides cautioned that the path forward is still in flux, but a vote on final passage is expected to take place no later than mid-week, unless lawmakers reach an agreement.

After final passage, all eyes will turn to the House, where committee leaders have expressed interest in returning to a two-year cycle of reauthorizing WRDA projects. The last bill was cleared in 2014 after the House and Senate went to conference.

But this year, the two chambers are farther apart on their WRDA measures, since the House version does not contain Flint aid due to jurisdictional differences in the committees.

The House is also facing a packed legislative schedule during the short work period and House leaders have not indicated whether WRDA will be a priority in the coming weeks, increasing the likelihood that any work on WRDA will have to wait until the lame duck session.

The Senate’s legislation identifies $4.5 billion worth of water-related infrastructure projects and authorizes $4.9 billion for drinking and clean water infrastructure over five years.

The measure also provides $220 million in direct emergency assistance to address drinking water crises in communities such as Flint, where water from the Flint River corroded the city’s pipes, contaminating the water supply with lead.

The Flint component would be paid for by cutting funds from the Energy Department’s Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing Technology loan program.

“We are pleased that after months of working with Republicans and Democrats, our bipartisan agreement to help Flint and other communities is now before the Senate as part of the Water Resources Development Act,” Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D) and Gary Peters (D) said in a statement. “In the coming days, we will continue our effort in the Senate to finally pass this urgently-needed help for Flint families.”

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