WASHINGTON - The U.S. government could dedicate nearly $40 billion to improving drinking water and repairing sewers under a bill that was approved by the Senate public works committee on Thursday and sent to the full body for a final vote.
The roughly $37 billion bill is more than double the version approved by the House of Representatives in March and would beef up the state revolving funds for water-related projects.
The Senate must pass the bill and then meet with the House to hammer out compromise legislation to send to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
Over five years, some $20 billion would go to clean water state revolving funds, which make low-cost loans and grants to water authorities for building and repairs. Another $15 billion would go to similar funds for maintaining drinking water supplies.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February about $2 billion will be sent to the funds over the next two years.
Oklahoma's James Inhofe, the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the federal authorization for the clean water fund has not been modified since 1987, while the drinking water authorization has not changed since 1996.
"In the mean-time the needs have changed," he said, adding the new bill would hike funding levels and change how money is distributed. "It provides more funds for smaller states. And, thanks to the authorization level provided by the bill, it will mean more dollars for every state."
Under the Senate version, New York would receive the most clean water funding, followed by California and then Ohio. Also, 1.5 percent of the allocation would be set aside for tribal governments.
Addressing the recent spike in water pollution from pharmaceuticals and personal care products such as shampoo, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand added an amendment requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to study the chemicals' effects on human health and aquatic wildlife.
At the same time, Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, amended the bill so the EPA will ensure local communities have the financial capabilities to carry out pollution programs.
Inhofe pledged to fight a requirement that anyone working on a project funded by the bill be paid at least the prevailing local wage when it is debated in the full body, contending the provision will drive up costs for local communities.
The committee's chairman, California's Barbara Boxer, countered that the requirement, which applies the 78-year-old labor law known as the Davis-Bacon Act, would keep costs lower and make sure construction work was done on time.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)