Senate passes water bill with Flint aid

Senate passes water bill with Flint aid
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Nearly a year after the devastating drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., made national headlines, the Senate passed legislation on Thursday to provide emergency assistance for the city and other lead-contaminated communities around the country.

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Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved, in a 95-3 vote, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to boost U.S. ports, waterways and clean water infrastructure.

The amended measure authorizes dozens of water-related infrastructure projects and contains $220 million in direct funding to address drinking water crises in communities like Flint.

But the prospects for Flint aid in the House remain less clear. The House version of the WRDA — which could see a floor vote under an expedited process next week — is far narrower and does not contain any drinking water provisions due to jurisdictional differences between the House and Senate committees.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGillibrand expects vote on military justice bill in fall The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden backs Cuban protesters, assails 'authoritarian regime' Trump getting tougher for Senate GOP to ignore MORE (R-Okla.), chairman of Environment and Public Works Committee, urged his colleagues across the Capitol to support the House bill and vowed to attach the Flint component during a conference between the chambers.

“I promise to address this in conference. I’ve been standing with my Michigan colleagues on this, and I will continue to do so,” Inhofe said on the Senate floor.

“Let me be clear: It would be a short-sighted mistake to prevent quick movement of WRDA in the House, so we can conference immediately.”

But Michigan lawmakers who have been leading the charge on Flint funding aren’t resting easy. They are eyeing every legislative opportunity to get Flint funding over the finish line this Congress — including a stop-gap spending bill.

“We are looking for multiple paths,” Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowHere's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken Schumer: Democrats considering option to pay for all of infrastructure agenda Democrats closing in on deal to unlock massive infrastructure bill MORE (D-Mich.) said after a news conference on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of interest in putting it in the House WRDA bill. There are other avenues, and we are talking about all of those.”

The underlying bill authorizes $4.5 billion worth of water-related infrastructure projects around the country and authorizes $4.9 billion over five years to repair systems related to drinking water.

It also contains $220 million for communities like Flint, where water from the river corroded the city’s pipes and contaminated the water supply with lead.

Area residents still can’t drink unfiltered tap water, and many are reeling from the physical and mental effects of lead poisoning, which includes hair and teeth loss, developmental delays and reproductive issues.

“The science is clear on the impact of lead in drinking water,” said Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBottom line Trump administration halting imports of cotton, tomatoes from Uighur region of China Biden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee. “We disagree on a lot of science, but on that one, we agree.”

The Flint package seeks to address the crisis by offering $100 million in subsidized loans and grants for lead-contaminated communities and $70 million in Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation credit subsidies.

It also designates money for the Department of Health and Human Services to monitor residents’ health in lead-tainted communities; creates a new Environmental Protection Agency grant program to reduce lead levels in drinking water; and offers loan forgiveness for states where a public emergency has been declared over lead contamination.

The provisions would be paid for by cutting money from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program.