Construction industry groups are hopeful the House’s swift passage of a multiyear authorization for wastewater funding bodes well for final congressional approval this year. The measure, which the House approved on March 5 by a 317-101 vote, would authorize $19.4 billion for wastewater infrastructure over the next five years.
Of the total, $13.8 billion would go for Clean Water state revolving funds (SRFs), the principal financing source for wastewater projects. Funding would start at $2.4 billion in fiscal 2010, rise to $2.7 billion in 2011, then climb $100 million a year after that, to $3 billion in 2014. Clean Water SRF 2009 appropriation is $829 million.
The bill also includes more than $2.5 billion in grants to address combined-sewer and sanitary-sewer overflows and $750 million to clean up contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes region.
An amendment offered by Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) to delete Davis-Bacon Act prevailing-wage provisions from the bill was defeated by a 284-140 margin .
The bill had a quick ascent in the House, winning passage just two days after Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) introduced it. But no comparable bill has yet surfaced in the Senate. In the last Congress, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee did approve a bill authorizing $36.5 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water SRFs, but the full Senate did not act.
A Senate bill would need to be introduced and approved in the current Congress before the measure becomes law. Observers say they are more upbeat about prospects for Senate action and final passage of a water measure this year. “We understand they’re putting the finishing touches on a Senate bill,” says Eben Wyman, National Utility Contractors Association’s vice president for government relations. “We’re encouraged that the Senate side seems to be prepared to act much quicker this year.”
Steve Hall, the American Council of Engineering Companies’ vice president for government affairs, also thinks the water legislation will clear Congress this year. “It helps to have a big bipartisan majority in the House-passed bill,” Hall says.