Energy & Environment

$220 million Flint aid package included in water bill

A $220 million legislative package to help Flint, Mich., and other cities with water contamination is now part of a bipartisan water infrastructure bill in the Senate.

It’s the same legislation that Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) had proposed in February amid growing Democratic calls to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to help Flint recover from its lead contamination crisis.

{mosads}The $220 million package would allow stricken communities to access certain infrastructure loan and health programs, including $100 million immediately available to cities with federal emergency declarations.

It pays for the programs by cutting funds from the Energy Department’s Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing Technology loan program.

The provisions are attached to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016, proposed Tuesday by Inhofe and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to authorize water infrastructure projects such as ports, flood protection measures and recreation spaces.

“What happened in Flint has shown us how vulnerable some of our water systems are, and this bill is a perfect vehicle to upgrade our water infrastructure,” said Boxer, the top Democrat on the environment panel.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who has led Democrats in negotiations for the aid deal, thanked Inhofe and Boxer for attaching the Flint provisions.

“I am pleased we have successfully found a new path forward to get urgently needed help for families in Flint and other communities across the country with serious lead and water issues,” she said in a statement. “This is an important step, and I am not giving up until this gets done.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said Flint’s 100,000 residents “are in dire need of assistance, and I look forward to helping move this legislation forward in the Senate.”

While the larger water bill has bipartisan support, the Flint piece could doom its chances in the Senate.

Conservative opposition, led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), stalled the Flint package for weeks and also held up an energy modernization bill to which it was tied.

Seeing no resolution to Lee’s concerns about the cost of the aid, Stabenow and Democrats agreed earlier this month to remove the Flint aid and let the energy bill proceed.

Stabenow said that if Lee objects to the Flint package’s inclusion in the water bill, it’s unlikely to doom it this time around. An individual senator’s hold wouldn’t stop it from moving forward.

“He’d be objecting to the entire WRDA bill, which is something he can do, but I do expect it to have 60 votes and pass,” Stabenow told The Hill.

“It’s not the same, procedurally, as having to have unanimous consent to consider an amendment, since it’s the entire bill.”

A spokesman for Lee declined to comment on the water bill or the Flint piece, saying his office hasn’t had a chance to review it.

Tags Barbara Boxer Debbie Stabenow Flint water crisis Jim Inhofe Mike Lee

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