Environment & Energy Report

House Passes Green Infrastructure Bill Under Congress’ Deadline

Dec. 20, 2018, 12:41 AM

Cities and states would get more credit from the EPA for installing natural stormwater runoff systems under a bill the House passed Dec. 19.

The bill, H.R. 7279, passed the House on a 351-10 vote. With the lame duck session coming to a close this week, more than 70 members of the House did not cast a vote.

A Senate staffer involved in the negotiations told Bloomberg Environment that the upper chamber could also pass the measure as early as Dec. 20.

That would send the legislation to President Donald Trump’s desk just hours before Congress is expected to wrap up its current session at the end of this week.

Stormwater Overflows

The bill would be a relief to many cities and states that are struggling to get their stormwater runoff under control. It would require the Environmental Protection Agency to give municipalities and states more credit for installing natural runoff collection methods, also known as “green infrastructure,” when weighing whether to grant them stormwater permits.

Many cities, especially older cities in the Midwest and Northeast, have combined sewer systems that send stormwater runoff and sewage through the same system of pipes. As a result, heavy storms can cause these systems to overflow and discharge raw sewage into lakes and rivers, posing health risks and often in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The EPA has reached legal agreements with hundreds of cities over the years requiring them to prevent or at least mitigate these overflows by upgrading their stormwater systems. But these upgrades often come with massive costs and many cities are looking for less expensive ways to meet the requirements of the agreements they’ve reached with the EPA.

Green Guidance to Law

That’s where green infrastructure comes in. Instead of digging enormous and costly new tunnels to capture runoff, many cities have found they can trap the same amount of water by instead planting trees, restoring wetlands, building green roofs, or installing porous materials instead of pavement.

Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Ind., said at a 2017 congressional hearing that his city could save half a billion dollars on a stormwater project if it’s allowed to utilize green infrastructure.

The EPA began encouraging the use of green infrastructure in stormwater management projects with a 2012 guidance document to its stormwater permitting offices. H.R. 7279 would essentially enshrine this guidance document into law and give the agency stronger authority to encourage green infrastructure projects.

The bill’s primary backer in the House is Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio). Gibbs’ deputy chief of staff, Dallas Gerber, told Bloomberg Environment he’s optimistic the Senate will pass the measure before its final adjournment this week. But he said if this doesn’t happen, the measure has a strong chance of passing in the next session of Congress, given its strong support in the House.

—With assistance from Amena H. Saiyid.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dschultz@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Steven Gibb at sgibb@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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