Senators propose level EPA funding for 2021, no WIFIA cuts

The U.S. EPA’s water infrastructure financing programs would be in line for approximately level funding next year under a plan for FY21 appropriations released by Senate Republicans last week. The funding proposal is detailed in the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ (AMWA) Nov. 16 Monday Morning Briefing.

The Republicans’ proposal would provide EPA with just under $9.1 billion next year, roughly in line with the agency’s FY20 appropriation. Within that sum, $1.126 billion would be set aside for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and $1.639 billion would go to the Clean Water SRF – each equal to current funding. The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program would also stay flat at $60 million, while a program to reduce lead in drinking water would get a slight bump to $21.5 million. The Drinking Water System Resilience and Sustainability Program, which AMWA helped create and is working to expand, would receive $4 million, a $1 million increase above its current funding.

The Senate Republican spending proposal comes several months after House Democrats approved their own vision for EPA appropriations in FY21. The Senate bill’s allocations for water infrastructure programs are generally in line with the House’s, with the exception of WIFIA. The House measure threatened to zero-out new WIFIA appropriations next year due to a dispute over EPA’s implementation of scoring criteria that seek to prevent federally owned projects from receiving program loans. Instead of providing new funds, the House plan would require EPA to fund new WIFIA projects by rescinding previously appropriated dollars that have not yet been spent – a tactic that AMWA and others complained would take loans away from earlier projects that had been promised funding. The Senate plan would avoid this scenario by providing $60 million in new funding to the program. AMWA plans to advocate for that amount as lawmakers begin to negotiate a final FY21 spending plan.

Other parts of the Senate plan direct EPA to spend no less than $64.5 million on efforts to address PFAS pollution, including through ongoing implementation of the agency’s PFAS Action Plan. The spending bill also expresses support for setting maximum contaminant levels for PFAS chemicals and directs EPA to brief appropriators on the status of those efforts within 60 days of enactment.

Absent from the Republican proposal is $13 billion worth of funding for “emergency infrastructure investments” at EPA that House Democrats proposed this past summer. The Democratic plan included an extra $10 billion for the SRFs and $500 million for lead service line replacement efforts, but those off-budget additions were always seen as unlikely to attract Senate Republican buy-in.

The release of the Senate Republican spending bills set the stage for House and Senate negotiators to attempt to work out a compromise appropriations package over the next several weeks. Currently a stopgap government funding bill is scheduled to expire on December 11, so lawmakers are hoping to reach agreement on an omnibus FY21 spending plan before that deadline. If such a deal cannot be reached, Congress would instead likely approve another continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown and punt the final FY21 appropriations decisions into the New Year.

This update originally appeared in the Nov. 16 Monday Morning Briefing from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies

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