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April 24, 2020 2:30 PM, EDT

Senate Committee Introduces Water Infrastructure Bills

Hurricane Harvey floodingRoads in Texas flood after Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

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Bills that would authorize navigation and flood control projects, as well as promote the safety of drinking water, were unveiled by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on April 21.

The America’s Water Infrastructure Act would address concerns related to floodwaters, ports and inland waterways. An objective of the bill would be to support the country’s economy by facilitating the deepening of nationally significant ports, as well as maintaining the navigability of waterways. Specifically, the bill would authorize studies, project modifications and certain Army Corps of Engineers reports.

The bill also would adjust the cost-share for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for construction costs and rehabilitation of locks and dams. Overall, it would authorize $17 billion.

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The Drinking Water Infrastructure Act is meant to provide resources and assistance to communities, according to background about the draft measures the committee released. The legislation would authorize $300 million in grants to assist in the cleanup of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

Under the bill, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be required to produce a study examining existing and emerging technologies designed to enhance treatment, monitoring, affordability, efficiency and safety of drinking water. Overall, the measure would authorize $2.5 billion for its proposals.

“America’s water infrastructure supports our economy and keeps communities safe,” said EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “Our committee is working together to improve the nation’s dams, ports, flood-prevention infrastructure, reservoirs and drinking water systems. These draft bills will help create jobs and grow the economy. The draft legislation will help ensure American-made goods are safely shipped from one state to another and that the water Americans are drinking is safe.”

Tom Carper (D-Del.)

Carper

Committee ranking Democrat Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware added, “These two draft pieces of legislation address critical water infrastructure on which everyone in this country relies. From the infrastructure that keeps our drinking water safe and clean, to the levees, dams and ports that support our communities and economy, these vital parts of American infrastructure are many times overlooked and neglected.”

Niels Hansen of PH Livestock Co. in Rawlins, Wyo., and a member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council, told the senators he appreciated the legislation’s attention to the needs of rural storage and delivery. As he put it April 22, “Too often, conversations about water delivery prioritize municipal needs above the needs of rural communities.”

Committee approval of the measures would mark action on infrastructure policy, similar to the committee’s approval last year of a five-year, $287 billion highway bill measure. The Senate has yet to consider the highway policy bill.

On the other side of the Capitol, a five-year, $760 billion infrastructure outline House Democrats unveiled in January aims to address concerns regarding affordable water and wastewater services. The House proposal calls for authorizing $19.7 billion for dredging and upkeep of harbors, ports and channels. It also would establish a program at EPA tasked with detecting, preventing and treating discharge of chemicals, such as PFAS.

“Due to decades of underfunding and neglect, America’s infrastructure system is falling apart and we’re falling behind our global competitors. The deficiencies of our roads, bridges, transit, water systems, broadband and electrical grids hold our nation’s economy back,” said Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.).

“It will also create good paying jobs, ensure that no community is left behind in the digital economy and help protect Americans’ drinking water,” added Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). “These are investments that we must make for the American people, and I look forward to moving this proposal forward.”

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