$1.7 Billion Clean-Water Bill Approved by House

March 9, 2007

The House has decided to endorse a bill that gives federal help for communities troubled with deteriorating sewage systems, despite opposition from the White House.

According to the Washington Post, the legislation was approved 367-58 to spend $1.7 billion over five years in federal grants to states and municipalities in an effort to modernize wastewater systems and control sewage overflows. Every vote against the bill, which will now move to the senate, came from Republicans.

Supporters of the bill pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the nation's wastewater infrastructure will face a funding shortfall of $300 billion to $400 billion over the next 20 years.

The White House released a statement that the administration strongly opposes the bill, citing that the money being approved was unrealistic at this time.

The White House also fears that the bill could encourage municipalities to delay starting sewer infrastructure projects while waiting for federal subsidies. The Washington Post reports that this statement promoted an administration proposal to give exceptions to state caps on tax-exempt private activity bonds for wastewater and drinking water projects.

To encourage the Republicans to approve the bill, Democrats agreed to an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to cut $100 million off of the original proposal of $1.8 billion.

A 2004 EPA report states that about 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water are released every year as combined sewer overflow. There are also between 23,000 and 75,000 accidents each year involving sanitary sewer overflow, releasing between 3 billion and 10 billion gallons.

Congress in 2002 and 2003 also approved federal grants under the Clean Water Act for sewer systems, but then did not successfully account for the money in annual spending bills.

This legislation is one of three water quality bills that the House is taking up this week. On Thursday the House will reexamine a defunct Clean Water Act program providing $125 million in grants for alternative water source projects. The White House opposes this bill also for issues related to cost. Lastly, the house will revisit the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which would give out up to $20 billion in loans over five years for water pollution abatement projects.

Source: Washington POst