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The Insider

Efforts by Congress and the Biden administration to agree on a series of infrastructure measures that would fund EPA water infrastructure programs, a host of transportation projects and clean energy measures are facing key tests as officials seek a deal that would allow the legislation to be approved this summer.

In the House, lawmakers are gearing up to approve legislation focused on EPA water infrastructure issues and transportation programs even as the White House and Senate Republicans continue to negotiate over additional measures that include President Joe Biden’s related clean energy and climate infrastructure plans.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) June 9 is slated to mark up H.R. 1915, a bill that authorizes $50 billion for EPA’s Clean Water Act infrastructure programs.

The panel is also slated to mark up a just-introduced measure authorizing $547 billion for various surface transportation programs.

And the House Energy and Commerce Committee is also gearing up to approve legislation authorizing EPA’s drinking water infrastructure programs.

The Senate is further along in its consideration of companion measures. Earlier this year, the Senate approved a $35-billion drinking water and wastewater infrastructure bill that GOP and Democratic senators tout as a key component of divergent comprehensive infrastructure plans.

And the Senate environment committee last month unanimously approved a $303 billion transportation funding bill.

Action on such traditional infrastructure measures comes as the White House continues talks with Senate Republicans on climate and energy measures that Biden and his top officials want to include in an additional infrastructure package, but Republicans are seeking to dramatically prune back.

The fate of Biden’s push for $1 trillion in new spending, in addition to sums in the water and highway bills, hangs in the balance, in the face of concerted Republican opposition. Recently, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen touted the climate elements as the “most important” piece of Biden’s infrastructure push:

Yellen Says Clean Energy ‘Most Important’ Piece Of Infrastructure Deal
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is touting the Biden administration’s push for low-carbon energy investments as the “most important” piece of the infrastructure package being negotiated on Capitol Hill, underscoring the high priority the administration is placing on the issue even as Senate Republicans are downplaying such measures.

Senate Republicans’ May 27 proposal calling for $928 billion in infrastructure spending over eight years would provide more than half of the funds for roads, bridges and “major” projects, while only devoting $4 billion to electric vehicles (EVs).

While the GOP package also includes nearly $150 billion for transit and rail -- categories that could help cut transportation GHGs -- Biden has sought significantly more EV-related funds, including $100 billion in rebates for light-duty vehicles alone, as well as $15 billion for charging infrastructure.

The GOP plan also omitted funding for grid upgrades and incentives to deploy low-carbon power, another key climate priority for the administration.

Talks between the White House and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the GOP point person on the issue, continue for the time-being, amid reports that Biden may be willing to walk-back some planned corporate tax increases in order to secure an infrastructure deal.

While those discussions continue, House lawmakers are poised to advance some of their plans, though early signs indicate partisan differences over the legislation.

At a T&I Committee hearing earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans agreed on the need to increase EPA’s water infrastructure funds but they sparred over whether any legislation should include mandates for municipalities that receive those funds:

Despite Common Ground, House Hearing Underscores Infrastructure Battle
Divergent views at a recent House hearing illustrate the potential challenges that face Congress in attempting to pass comprehensive infrastructure legislation, even as Senate Republicans are pointing to unanimous committee approval of a bill bolstering funding for EPA’s water programs and pledging to find common ground on other types of infrastructure.

For example, Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), ranking member of the water resources and environment subcommittee, questioned statutory mandates that a portion of EPA’s loans address green infrastructure, water and energy efficiency, or other environmental activities, saying while they may benefit some communities, it is essential the programs do not take a one-size-fits-all approach.

While green energy mandates may have been necessary in the past, he questioned whether they are necessary today when in many sectors, “there is a strong desire to move to green energy.”

House lawmakers are similarly at odds over legislation funding EPA’s drinking water infrastructure programs. At a recent Energy & Commerce Committee hearing to consider 10 drinking water bills, GOP lawmakers backed some Democratic provisions but expressed serious reservations about other measures:

House GOP Backs Drinking Water Funds But Faults EPA Policy Provisions
Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee agreed with Democrats at a May 25 hearing that Congress should provide EPA with funding to address significant drinking water infrastructure needs, but the GOP lawmakers objected to policy provisions in pending funding bills that would create new authorities for the agency.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the top Republican on the full committee, said that elements of the 10 bills under consideration, taken together, “divert us to a dangerous pathway.” The panel considered the drinking water provisions of H.R. 1512, known as the CLEAN Future Act, which committee Democrats have offered as a broad framework measure to address climate change, as well as nine other bills targeting various aspects of drinking water policy.

Rodgers raised several concerns, including that if Congress approves a huge increase in EPA’s drinking water state revolving fund (SRF), states will be unable to meet their matching requirements, making them unable to take advantage of increased federal infrastructure funding. Additionally, Rodgers said she is concerned about a push for $45 billion to pay for full lead service line replacements, including privately owned pipes, when EPA has yet to publish a needs assessment on the number of lead service lines.

Drinking water utilities have also voiced concerns with several of the provisions of the 10 bills, warning in comments ahead of the hearing that some items would be harmful:

Water Utilities Warn Of ‘Significant Flaws’ In House Infrastructure Bills
Drinking water utilities are warning House Energy & Commerce Committee leaders of “significant flaws” in several of 10 related infrastructure bills that the committee will consider at a May 25 hearing, saying the plans would harm rather than help improve the nation’s drinking water and urging lawmakers to work with them to craft legislation.

The American Water Works Association, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, National Association of Water Companies and National Rural Water Association said in a May 24 letter to committee leadership that some provisions are problematic. The bills include “provisions that may undermine regulatory integrity, impose resource-intensive mandates, or prevent water systems from taking appropriate steps to collect payment for water service to maintain overall sustainability,” the utilities said.

The full Senate has already approved S. 914, which reauthorizes EPA’s clean water and drinking water programs, a measure that has won the backing of the White House.

The Senate environment committee also recently approved -- in a unanimous vote -- a bill to reauthorize transportation programs, a measure that includes significant funding to address greenhouse gas emissions. But despite its support for climate programs, it is drawing criticism from environmentalists because it streamlines environmental review requirements:

Environmentalists Tout Highway Bill’s Climate Title But Fight NEPA Reform
Environmental groups are ramping up resistance to provisions in a bipartisan Senate transportation bill that seek to speed environmental reviews, even as they praise the bill’s investments in electric vehicles (EVs) and other climate measures as an initial step toward the Biden administration’s more ambitious infrastructure plan.

With much still to be decided, lawmakers are also seeking to use the various measures as legislative vehicles to advance other policy measures. For example, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers recently urged congressional leaders to use any infrastructure legislation to create a new EPA program to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS):

Lawmakers Seek Major New EPA Program On PFAS In Infrastructure Bill
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is seeking to create and fund a major new EPA program to assess, monitor and remediate contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in any upcoming infrastructure bill, with the officials urging EPA to partner with the Defense Department (DOD) to ensure contaminated communities are consulted.

“While prior federal funding has not been sufficient to address the issue, we believe there are opportunities this Congress to make historic investments to address PFAS. Therefore, we support the highest amount of funding necessary in a final legislative infrastructure package to assess, monitor and remediate PFAS,” the lawmakers wrote in a May 26 letter to House leaders.

It is unclear whether such a measure will make it into the infrastructure bill being marked up in the T& I Committee June 9, or some other legislative vehicle.