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Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Stimulus Bill to Fund Water, Other Projects

The Senate Appropriations Committee Jan. 27 approved $6 billion to upgrade the nation's sewer, wastewater, and drinking water systems and $1.4 billion for environmental cleanup programs as part of an economic stimulus bill (S. 1) aimed at boosting the economy and providing jobs.

The committee approved by a 21-9 vote more than $350 billion in appropriations as part of the overall $825 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Senate Finance Committee was taking up the tax portions of the stimulus package, and that markup session continued late into the evening.

Other provisions approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee would include $6.4 billion for the cleanup of former weapons production and energy research sites and $1.4 billion for loans and grants for water and wastewater facilities in rural areas.
Meanwhile, the House is scheduled to vote Jan. 28 on its version of the stimulus bill. The House Appropriations committee approved the stimulus package Jan. 21 (13 DEN A-18, 1/23/09).

The Senate version would provide $6 billion for local clean and drinking water infrastructure improvements, composed of $4 billion for the clean water state revolving fund and $2 billion for the drinking water state revolving fund. Revolving fund provisions would allow broad eligibility for these funds and would include authority for states to offer negative interest loans and principal forgiveness for up to 100 percent of the cost of projects.

In addition, the Senate version would require that at least 15 percent of both revolving loan funds to be designated for “green infrastructure, water efficiency improvements, or other environmentally innovative projects.”

The clean water state revolving funds provide low-interest loans to help municipalities build and upgrade infrastructure to keep sewage, toxic chemicals, and other pollution out of lakes, rivers, streams, and coastal waters. Safe drinking water loan funds are intended to ensure that water consumed is clean and safe.

The House version would include $2 billion for the drinking water revolving fund, but it calls for $6 billion for the clean water revolving fund—$2 billion more than the Senate version for the clean water revolving fund.

In addition, the House version would require 50 percent of state revolving loan funds to be in the form of grants. States receive federal revolving funds based on an Environmental Protection Agency formula that takes into account such factors as infrastructure needs and population.

Dan Hartnett, director of legislative affairs for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, told BNA the mandatory grant allocation will help states get immediate funds, but AMWA would have preferred that 100 percent be allocated as grants rather than loans. The Senate version would give states the flexibility to allow more grant funding for water systems.

Associations Call for More Funding.

Sewage treatment and drinking water treatment associations have called for an additional $10 billion each for each revolving loan fund in the stimulus package, which they say is needed for “shovel ready” projects.

In a letter to Senate leaders Jan. 23, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies said its members have identified more than $17 billion in wastewater projects “ready-to-go that can have shovels in the ground within 120 days of receiving the go ahead from their state agencies.”

The letter, signed by Ken Kirk, the association's executive director, said that while NACWA is pleased the House proposal requires states to distribute 50 percent of funds allocated to the clean water state revolving fund as grants, “we strongly urge that 100 percent of the funds be available as grants or principal forgiveness.”

Kirk assured Senate leaders the funds would be distributed on a timely basis. “In recent days, there have been questions raised about the timely distribution of infrastructure funding contained in the American Recovery and Investment Act,” he wrote.

“We are confident that water infrastructure funding can be put to work in short order, and we strongly recommend that provisions requiring the timely distribution of water infrastructure funding be included in the Senate economic stimulus package.”

The bill also would include $1.4 billion for loans and grants for water and wastewater facilities in rural areas. Funding for loans and grants for water and waste disposal facilities in rural areas are intended to tackle a substantial and long-standing backlog of approved applications for clean water and waste disposal projects in these areas, the Senate Appropriations Committee said.

In addition, the committee said estimates show that these funds could create 87,000 private sector jobs.

Waste, Cleanup Provisions.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved $6.4 billion for cleaning up former weapons production and energy research sites to fund limited duration projects “aimed at decreasing the overall site footprint and reducing recurring annual costs.” The work will move toward “decreasing the footprint” at some sites by 90 percent, the committee said.

This would free up these lands for other economic purposes. The majority of the funding would go out through existing contracts at sites nationwide to assure a timely impact, according to the Appropriations Committee's summary of the bill.

The bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee includes $1 billion more than the Senate version for loans and grants for water and grants for rural water and waste disposal facilities. Under the current rural water program, 75 percent of these funds are offered as grants and 25 percent are loans targeted to poor rural communities.

Both the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved bill and the House bill would include $800 million for EPA's superfund program and $200 million to clean up leaking underground storage tanks.

Both versions also include $100 million for brownfields grants to help local governments assess and clean up abandoned or potentially contaminated former industrial sites.

Ready-to-go habitat restoration projects under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $300 million under the Senate version of the bill. The House Appropriations Committee calls for $400 million for those restoration projects under NOAA.

The Senate bill also would include $1.9 billion for operation, maintenance, and related activities at water resources projects operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Also included is $1.4 billion for the development, management, and restoration of water and related natural resources in the 17 Western states.

The Senate bill includes $500 million for studies, construction, and maintenance of projects along the Mississippi River and its tributaries; $100 million to accelerate cleanups at some of the nation's early atomic energy facilities; and $25 million to accelerate high-priority flood control, navigation, and storm damage reduction studies.

The Senate legislation also includes $275 million for the Department of Agriculture's watershed and flood prevention operations and $120 million for the department's watershed rehabilitation program.

By Linda Roeder
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