House Democrats say they will push as the next economic stimulus their massive infrastructure bill, which seeks more than $25 billion to replace aging water and wastewater infrastructure and help households pay their water and sewer bills.
The House Democrats’ package also proposed $34.3 billion in grid security and modernization, including $4 billion over five years to fortify the electric grid against severe storms and other climate impacts and ensure it can better accommodate more renewable energy.
The most recent stimulus in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic didn’t address renewables, and the idea is likely to encounter continued opposition in the GOP-run Senate.
The increased water funding would pay to “replace old water systems and build new ones” and help pay residential water bills, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) told reporters on a press call. The bill assistance effort would mirror a similar federal effort that assists with home heating, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Pallone said.
Pallone and other House chairmen joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in touting the infrastructure proposal, unveiled in January, increased interest in making infrastructure the centerpiece of what would be the fourth virus-related legislative package The bulk of the funding they mentioned Wednesday was included in their January proposal.
Pallone said the water assistance effort, which he termed the Low income Household Drinking Water and Waste Water Assistance Program, would be funded at $1.5 billion.
“We must take bold action to renew America’s infrastructure,” Pelosi said, adding that “clean water, dependable drinking water, clean water and wastewater infrastructure are critical in the effort to limit the threat of the coronavirus.”
Trump Seeks Infrastructure
President Donald Trump reiterated his call for a $2 trillion infrastructure package Wednesday, saying he expected the U.S. “can borrow long term” to pay for it given low-interest rates. He noted his total was more than double what congressional Republicans have floated, but warned Democrats to stay clear of injecting the Green New Deal or similar climate change policies into the measure.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to do the Green New Deal because I won’t do it,” Trump said. “I won’t approve it.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) echoed Trump’s sentiment, saying Republicans “stand ready to work across the aisle to support the individuals and institutions” needed to fight coronavirus.
While Democrats are touting some climate-friendly infrastructure spending such as more resilient rail lines and the electricity grid, they are not proposing to include the Green New Deal in their package.
Pallone, Pelosi and many House Democratic leaders don’t back the resolution (H. Res. 109) in support of the Green New Deal, an ambitious climate blueprint that Republicans have branded as government overreach.
State Water Funding
House Democrats are touting massive increases in drinking water and other water infrastructure in their package, including $22.9 billion over five years in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), a program popular with states that has bipartisan support.
They also would create a $2.5 billion grant program to help local drinking water systems combat contamination from perfluorinated chemicals and require the Environmental Protection Agency to develop effective treatment techniques for removing the chemicals from drinking water.
The emphasis on clean water funding drew applause from Adam Krantz, chief executive officer of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, who praised both Trump and Pelosi for their “bipartisan focus” on water and other investments to help the nation recover from Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“The nation’s public clean water utilities have tens of billions of dollars of construction projects in the pipeline that could employ thousands of Americans, and we look forward to working with the Administration and Congress” on what he called a “stimulus and recovery” package, he said.
Tommy Holmes, legislative director for the American Water Works Association, said in an email that the proposal would help address local water infrastructure needs that have gone unmet for years.
“It not only creates jobs, but provides human and environmental health benefits,” Holmes said.
—With assistance from Amena H. Saiyid.