Senate Passes Bill to Fund Flint Fixes
A $9 billion water infrastructure bill passed the U.S. Senate late last week, with hundreds of millions allocated for improvements to systems in Flint, MI, and other cities with potentially dangerous drinking-water contamination.
The bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2016, sponsored by Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), passed the body 96-3 on Thursday (Sept.15), with Republican Sens. Jeff Flake, Mike Lee and Ben Sasse voting against, and Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Kelly Ayotte not voting.
The bill allocates $4.5 billion for 29 Army Corps of Engineers projects, and $4.8 billion for work on water infrastructure nationwide.
Drinking Water Allocations
Specifically, the bill opens up $100 million in federal funds for grants to help states deal with emergency situations related to drinking water; Flint is currently the only municipality fitting the criteria for the grants, though that could change.
Another $70 million is allocated for subsidized loans to help with infrastructure projects, bringing the total funds available for those loans to $700 million, and $20 million is freed up to forgive loans to communities like Flint that are dealing with major public health crises related to drinking water.
The bill also designates $20 million to start a national lead exposure registry and advisory committee, under the Department of Health and Human Services, and a total of $30 million for programs to prevent lead exposure in children, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Flint became embroiled in a public health crisis when the city switched to the Flint River as its main water source; lead pipes began to corrode, leading to dangerous levels of lead in some residents' drinking water. The city has since switched back to getting its water from nearby Detroit, and in the spring began a "Fast Start" program to get service lines to residents' homes replaced.
Review of Flint Response
In addition to the funding, the bill orders an investigation and report on the city, state and federal responses to the Flint drinking water crisis, including specifically the response of the Environmental Protection Agency. It also mandates that public water systems notify customers if lead levels in their drinking water exceed federal limits.
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The bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2016 passed the Senate by a margin of 96-3 on Thursday (Sept. 15).
Another $10 million is authorized to provide grants for research related to innovations in safety and efficiency in drinking water systems, including new ways to limit lead and other contaminants.
In order to pay for the additional water infrastructure costs, the bill deauthorizes funds for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program, which provides loans to automakers for projects that increase vehicle efficiency.
Other Infrastructure Funded
Much of the portion of the bill related to Army Corps of Engineers projects centers on flood control, authorizing funding for feasibility studies on flooding and hurricane damage, especially vis a vis rising sea levels. The Corps is authorized by the bill to work with nonfederal entities on smaller flood-control projects.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also ordered to establish grants to rehabilitate nonfederal dams that pose a risk to the public.
House Bill Skips Flint
The House of Representatives is expected to take up a considerably different version of the bill, including the Army Corps projects, but not the Flint-related drinking-water funding. As The New York Times reports, some House members have expressed interest in attaching the Flint stipulations to another piece of legislation in hopes of getting them passed.
In a statement, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said, “Today’s passage is an important reminder to the nation that the crisis in Flint is far from over. Today families still cannot drink the unfiltered water that comes out of their faucets! Now, our colleagues in the House need to act as quickly as possible. It's also essential that the State of Michigan fully meet their responsibilities to solve the water crisis.”