Congress proposes $250 million for Flint, other cities with water crises

Posted at 7:58 PM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 21:58:43-05
By Steve Almasy and Ted Barrett


(CNN) — Congress is proposing $250 million to assist residents of Flint, Michigan, and other American cities experiencing critical problems with their water supplies, Sen. James Inhofe announced Thursday.

Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the proposed bipartisan legislation “helps to increase nationwide funding for Drinking Water Act State Revolving Funds and provide start-up funding for the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program.”

“Using these existing, authorized programs is the fiscally responsible thing to do not only for Flint but also for the entire nation facing a water infrastructure crisis,” he added.

Earlier, Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, told Capitol Hill reporters that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz was holding up the Senate bill. But the No. 3 Democrat wouldn’t elaborate on why.

A Cruz spokesman explained that the Texas senator wanted time to review the agreement, which was reached late Wednesday. Later in the day, Phil Novack said Cruz had finished looking at the bill and wouldn’t prevent it from moving forward.

Because of objections to taking up the legislation and another unrelated bill, the Senate will move instead to a bill to respond to the opioid crisis gripping many states.

Inhofe predicts passage

Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, was a key negotiator to the Flint compromise and confirmed there were multiple holds on the measures.

He predicted the matter would be settled soon.

“It is something that can be resolved,” he said, adding he doesn’t expect any substantive changes to the bill.

The legislation was filed as an amendment to S.2012 — the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, Inhofe said.

Under the $250 million agreement, Flint and other communities with water problems, could finance projects to remove lead pipes — like the ones that caused the problems in Flint — or other take others steps to improve water quality. It also has funds to deal with health problems of the affected communities.

“We have a widespread national problem and this bill makes sure every state in the union can help it’s people,” said Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters.

Much of the money — $100 million — would be used by any city or state with a drinking water emergency. Other money would help fund loans to address infrastructure needs.

High lead levels discovered in Flint water

Flint, an economically depressed city of about 100,000 people, became aware of high levels of lead in the drinking water last year.

About two years ago, the city started getting its water from the Flint River. It previously bought Lake Huron water through the city of Detroit. The state government made the switch to cut costs.

Soon after the change, the water started to look, smell and taste funny.

It was discovered the Flint River water had high levels of iron and contained lead from the connecting pipes.

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