Infrastructure bill moves forward in Senate

The U.S. Senate worked into the weekend on a massive infrastructure bill that promises to spend an additional $550 billion on infrastructure over five years, including $48.4 billion focused on drinking water and wastewater programs at the U.S. EPA. As of Friday, the measure appeared on track for passage over the weekend or early this week at the latest, according to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA).

Unveiled by a bipartisan coalition of senators last week, the legislation, newly dubbed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is the end product of what has been months of negotiations. New EPA water infrastructure spending promised by the bill over the next five years (FY22-26) includes:

  • $11.713 billion each to the Drinking Water (DW) and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), with states required to award 49 percent of their funds as grants or full principal forgiveness loans;
  • $15 billion through the DWSRF to support lead service line replacement projects, again with 49 percent of funds required to be distributed by states as grants or principal forgiveness loans; and
  • A total of $10 billion to help drinking water and wastewater systems address emerging contaminants like PFAS, including $4 billion through the DWSRF as grants that would be available to drinking water systems of all sizes.

While senators offered hundreds of amendments to the bill, Senate staff indicated that few changes were expected to the drinking water portions. According to AMWA, one notable amendment was proposed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who sought to require states to distribute at least 50 percent of their extra SRF funds as grants and 100 percent as grants in the case of the lead service line funds. AMWA joined a coalition of eight water and municipal organizations in expressing support for the proposal, but as of late last week, the amendment appeared unlikely to receive a vote due to opposition from leading Republicans.

The legislation also includes the full text of S. 914, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, which the Senate originally passed with AMWA’s support in April.

While this legislation includes numerous provisions AMWA has championed, including a new climate resilience program for drinking water systems and a low-income water ratepayer assistance pilot program, it also carries drinking water cybersecurity provisions that AMWA has criticized. Last week Senate staff said the bipartisan agreement on the larger bill prevented consideration of changes at this time but pledged to work with the association to modify the provisions through future legislation.

Once the infrastructure legislation is complete, the Senate is expected to immediately move on to consideration of a budget reconciliation bill. That measure would clear a path for Democrats to spend as much as an additional $3.5 trillion on additional priorities, while avoiding the possibility of a Republican filibuster. But subsequent legislation to finalize the details of that package would not be written until the fall, after the House and Senate return from their respective August breaks, says AMWA.

Source: Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies

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