Water Bill With Flint Aid Passes Senate

Momentum grows for House action

Virginia Mitchell, right, and her daughter-in-law Tiara Williams leave the the Sylvester Broome Center in Flint, Mich., after receiving cases of bottled water in February. Legislation to renew the Water Resources Development Act, which included aid for Flint, passed the Senate Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A $10.6 billion water projects authorization bill — including $220 million in loans and grants to help Flint, Michigan, rebuild and recover from its lead-tainted drinking water system — passed the Senate Thursday, 95-3.

The legislation to renew the Water Resources Development Act authorizes 30 water projects, including watershed restoration efforts, repairs and improvements to waterways and flood-control systems, and EPA drinking-water infrastructure programs.

Attention now turns to the House’s version of the bill, which does not include the Flint provision. Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania said during the committee markup of the bill that those provisions were outside the jurisdiction of the committee.

That purview would fall to the Energy and Commerce Committee. Its chairman, Fred Upton of Michigan, who visited Flint over the summer recess, called the Senate vote “an important milestone as we work to fulfill our commitment to the folks of Flint.”

Upton added that he “will continue to work with the Michigan delegation, and all my colleagues, as we work together to provide much needed assistance.”

But the decision to add Flint aid to the WRDA bill would be driven by Shuster, a House Energy and Commerce committee aide said.

[Democrats Blast GOP Senators for Vote Against Flint]

“Upton trusts Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Shuster’s judgment when it comes to the best way to advance a WRDA bill through the House and remains hopeful we can get to conference on a bill and build upon the Senate’s work while bringing our own ideas to the table,” the committee aide said. “Having just been in Flint, Fred saw first-hand the work that needs to be done and is hopeful we can come together and get the job done for them.”

Shuster told reporters Wednesday that he and his staff are talking to leadership "every hour" about moving his committee-passed version to the floor.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, however, did not list the WRDA as a bill on the House’s schedule for next week, during a colloquy on the chamber floor Thursday.

The Senate bill's funding directed at Flint marks the most significant congressional response to the drinking water crisis in the eight months since President Barack Obama signed a federal emergency declaration.

The $220 million breaks down to $100 million for water infrastructure improvements available to “states with emergency drinking water situations” via state revolving fund loans; $70 million in Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act credit subsidies; and $50 million in health screening and education grants. The offset for that funding comes from an Energy Department Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program.

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