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Senate, House Set to Tackle Differences After Senate Vote on Economic Stimulus Bill

The Senate passed its version of an economic recovery package Feb. 10 by a 61-37 vote, setting the stage for House and Senate negotiations on a range of differences, including funding for water treatment infrastructure, superfund, and cleanups at former nuclear weapons sites.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hopes that he and other conferees will have a “first cut” on a conference agreement by Feb. 11.

The House-passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1), estimated at $819 billion, contains more funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's clean water and drinking water revolving funds and for superfund cleanups than the $838 billion Senate bill.

Language on how revolving loan funds should be spent also differs in the two versions.

The biggest difference between the House and Senate environmental provisions of the stimulus bill appears to be for Department of Energy environmental cleanup funds. The Senate would allocate $6.4 billion, while the House would only allocate $500 million. (See related story in this issue.)

The House bill would allocate $8 billion for water revolving loan funds, with $6 billion of this amount targeted to the clean water revolving fund and $2 billion to the drinking water revolving fund.

The Senate bill would provide $6 billion for the two funds, of which $4 billion would be allocated to the clean water fund and $2 billion to the safe drinking water fund.

House and Senate versions differ somewhat in their language on how clean water and drinking water revolving fund money should be allocated. States receive federal revolving funds based on an EPA formula that takes into account such factors as infrastructure needs and population.

The House version would require that 50 percent of state revolving water funds be in the form of grants.

However, under the Senate bill, the revolving fund provisions would allow broad eligibility and include authority for states to offer negative interest loans and principal forgiveness for up to 100 percent of the cost of projects.

States Seek Flexibility
Linda Eichmiller, executive director of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators, told BNA Feb. 10 that for some states, forgiving 50 percent of the principal may not be adequate.

States generally prefer the flexibility in the language of the Senate bill because they base funding decisions on project environmental importance, priority ranking, and community financial circumstances, she said.

Superfund site cleanup projects would receive $800 million under the House version, but only $600 million in the Senate version.

The House bill would provide $1.5 billion for rural water and waste disposal under the Department of Agriculture's Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act—more than the Senate allocation of $1.375 billion for the program

EPA's leaking underground storage tank trust fund program would receive $200 million in both bill versions.

Diesel Emissions, Brownfields Targeted
Both bills contain $300 million for state and local governments to reduce diesel emissions under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In addition, $100 million is targeted for brownfields programs in both bills.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would receive $4.6 billion in the Senate bill, and $4.5 billion in the House version.

Corps funding in the Senate bill includes $500 million for studies, construction, and maintenance of projects for the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project. The House bill would provide $250 million for this program.

The Senate bill includes $1.4 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation for several projects, including water reclamation and reuse.

The House bill would provide $500 million to the Bureau of Reclamation to provide clean, reliable drinking water to rural areas and to ensure an adequate water supply to western localities affected by drought. At least $80 million of this money would be used for rural water projects.

Energy Programs Funded
The Senate bill contains approximately $43 billion on clean-energy programs, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

That includes $4.2 billion for energy efficiency and conservation grants, $2.9 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program, $2.6 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research, development, demonstration and deployment activities.

The bill also includes $4.5 billion for smart-grid related activities, including work to modernize the electricity grid, enhance security and reliability, perform energy storage research, development, demonstration and deployment, and provide worker training, the committee said. Some $8.5 billion is provided for new loan guarantees aimed at standard renewable energy projects such as wind or solar projects and for electricity transmission projects.

Among the top priorities in the House bill are $32 billion for electricity transmission-related programs, including smart grid technology, and for building new transmission lines to renewable energy generation sources in remote areas. Another $16 billion was included to repair public housing and make key energy efficiency retrofits, and $6 billion was approved for weatherizing low-income homes.

By Linda Roeder

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