A Senate battle at ENR press time over oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge threatened $32 billion to help hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast states. The two provisions were linked as part of a Dept. of Defense spending bill. Even if Alaska drilling opponents succeeded in striking that section or delaying the whole bill, the relief funds were likely to pass, though not as quickly as Gulf lawmakers want.

Highlights of Gulf Coast Aid Package
(millions of $)


1,500 11,500
2,325 2,750
1,468 1,378
1,155 350
NASA 325 350
GSA 75 38
Sources: House Appropriations Committee

The relief aid includes "a good chunk of infrastructure funding," says Jeffrey D. Shoaf, Associated General Contractors' senior executive director for government and public affairs.

"It's obviously needed," adds Larry Bory, HDR vice president of federal government relations. With tax breaks for the area approved Dec. 16, the total is "generous compared to where we thought it was going to be," Bory says. "It's rather critical that the money get there pretty quickly."

A main element is $2.9 billion for the Corps of Engineers to rebuild levees and other work . The Federal Highway Administration gets $2.75 billion. Up to $629 million of that goes to rebuild the Louisiana's Interstate 10 "Twin Spans." FHWA also can use up to $550 million for its backlog of emergency relief projects around the country.

DOD would receive $1.4 billion to repair Gulf Coast posts such as Mississippi's Keesler Air Force Base. The Veterans Affairs Dept. gets $368 million, including $293 million for a new Biloxi, Miss., hospital and $75 million to plan and design a New Orleans replacement hospital. The major item in the aid package is $11.5 billion in Community Development Block Grants, much of which is expected to aid those who lost homes in areas that did not qualify for flood insurance.

Of the $32 billion, $23.7 billion would come from funds approved earlier for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but not yet spent. To offset the new money, lawmakers cut 1% from all 2006 non-emergency accounts, except those at Veterans' Affairs. That cut totals about $8.5 billion.

For transportation programs, "this 1% reduction is not helpful because it further increases the deficit between transportation needs and funding," says Jack Basso, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' director of management and business development.

Insurance: Federal Terrorism Coverage Extension Approved
Congress has agreed to continue the federal terrorism insurance program for two years. The bill, which the Senate approved Dec. 16 and the House cleared the next day, extends the 2002 Terrorism Risk Insurance Act through December 2007. But it requires insurers to pick up more of the cost. The 2002 law was set to expire Dec. 31.

The bill boosts the size of a terrorist event activating the federal "backstop," from $5 million in insured claims now, to $50 million in 2006 and $100 million in 2007.  It hikes the amount of claims insurers would cover, from 15% of premiums now, to 17.5% in 2006 and 20% in 2007. The bill keeps the $100-billion federal-industry liability cap but drops surety and other insurance lines from the program.

Water: EPA Issues Sewage Flow Plan
Based on a plan developed by local water agencies and a major environmental group, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new policy for dealing with sanitary sewer system flow diversions during storms.

The proposal, issued Dec. 19,allows sewage to bypass biological treatment plants, but only after localities consider "all other feasible solutions," says Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water. He adds that the diverted influent must have at least primary treatment. Sanitary sewer systems serve an estimated 150 million people in the U.S.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies and Natural Resources Defense Council praised EPA's move. The proposal is in line with the groups� recent joint recommendation on sewage bypasses (ENR 11/7, p. 11).

EPA: Senate Confirms Nominee for Superfund Office
After a delay, the Senate on Dec. 17 confirmed Susan Bodine, a House subcommittee staff director, to head the Environmental Protection Agency office that runs Superfund. Bodine was nominated June 28 to be assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had blocked Bodine�s confirmation until EPA on Dec. 16 promised data on Superfund sites and funding and GOP senators pledged an oversight hearing on the cleanup program.