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Flint Aid Deal Slows Down Energy Bill

A sign at a local restaurant in Flint, Mich., reassures customers they are not on local water but on water pulled from Detroit. Congressional lawmakers are wrangling over federal aid to help the city. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Updated 12:05 p.m. | Senate Democrats blocked a broad bipartisan energy bill from advancing, while senators discuss the extent of federal assistance needed for Flint, Mich.  

Senators voted, 46-50, on a motion to limit debate. That was well short of the 60 votes needed. One senator also voted "present."  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., entered a motion to reconsider the vote, meaning it could be called again if an agreement is reached.  

What You Missed: House Hearing on Flint Water Crisis 

A compromise proposal floated Wednesday remains under discussion, with Republicans offering their own version. Some Republicans expressed confidence there will be agreement early next week. The initial proposal would provide loan guarantees to help Flint replace corroded pipes that are leaching lead into the city's drinking water.  

Timeline: Six Events in Flint Disaster Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said earlier she was continuing to work with staff and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who is pushing for an amendment that would fix the corrosion problem and support children and families exposed to lead.  

"We thought we had another path forward that would give us bipartisan support," Stabenow said Thursday. "We are asking today for colleagues to give us more time."  

Stabenow said that Democratic colleagues were "standing with" her and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., in their quest to slow the progress of the energy bill.  

Rejecting the motion to invoke cloture on a substitute amendment to the energy bill – and thus not breaking a prospective filibuster – could give some limited breathing space, though McConnell had already locked in an agreement to move to a North Korea sanctions measure by the middle of next week.  

The broader bill energy would streamline permitting for liquefied natural gas exports, mandate improvements to the electric grid's reliability and security, raise energy efficiency standards for commercial and federal buildings and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  

Some Republicans have expressed concern that the Flint aid effectively constitutes an earmark to rebuild one infrastructure system.  

The Michigan senators are not alone in offering legislation on the subject matter. Fellow Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio wants to place Environmental Protection Agency state water quality reports online in a central repository, as well as to provide that the EPA quickly notifies the public about contamination if local authorities do not. In Flint, the internal EPA memos raised concerns about water quality nearly a year ago, but the information was not share with the public.  

"It's not enough to just react to the crisis at hand – once children have been exposed, the effects can’t be erased," Brown said Wednesday. "We need a proactive strategy to protect families from being exposed to lead in the first place. The bill I will introduce this week is just one piece of that puzzle. But we are in this fight for the long haul and we will keep fighting to protect Ohio families from lead – whether it’s in drinking water or the paint in our houses."

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