WATER:

House panel approves nearly $15B for sewers, Great Lakes

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today approved a major water infrastructure and cleanup bill, despite GOP qualms about pro-labor wage requirements.

The committee unanimously approved H.R. 1262 by voice vote. The bill would authorize $13.8 billion over five years for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a low-interest wastewater loan program that helps states construct water treatment facilities and mandates that any federal grant money go toward the purchase of materials made or produced in the United States.

House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said the funding would help reduce a $300 billion to $400 billion shortfall for water infrastructure funding over the next 20 years. She also noted that the bill provides communities with more flexibility in financing infrastructure projects, saying the provisions are critical, given the state of the economy.

The bill allows communities facing economic hardship to obtain negative-interest loans and principal forgiveness. It allows repayment periods to be extended as long as 30 years and authorizes technical assistance for rural and small communities looking to finance wastewater infrastructure projects. Other grants authorized under the bill would help owners and operators of treatment works to conduct energy and water audits and to use that information to focus on conservation.

The legislation also provides $1.8 billion over five years for sewer overflow control grants and allocates another $250 million over five years for alternative water sources projects.

In addition, the bill includes a public disclosure requirement that the House first approved in the last session. It would require owners and operators of publicly owned treatment works to monitor for overflows and notify federal and state agencies, public health officials and the public when they occur.

The legislation also authorizes $750 million over five years for the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which was designed to eliminate toxic hot spots by removing contaminated sediment from the lakes. The $150 million annual funding level reflects the amount passed by the House last year, before it was lowered during negotiations with the Senate.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) expressed strong support for the Great Lakes provisions and the cash for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. "I'm very pleased with rolling all these various bills into one," she said. "The state revolving funds will be very beneficial for our basin."

Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said he was hopeful that the combined bill package would prompt the Senate to act more expeditiously. "They're pretty good on judges, but they're not very good on substantive legislation," he said. "This is one bill instead of five. Five is heavy lifting in the other body."

Davis-Bacon

Republicans continued to express opposition to pro-labor Davis-Bacon wage requirements attached to the bill but said they would support the legislation regardless.

Ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.) said he was concerned that the requirements could drive project costs up for states that could ill afford the price raise. He said they would primarily harm rural areas or places that have marginally financed projects.

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) withdrew an amendment striking the Davis-Bacon requirements after Oberstar and Mica agreed to help him move it to the floor.