US water bill to cost federal government $10.6 bln

WASHINGTON, March 12 Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:24am EDT

WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - A sweeping water and sewer bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives would cost the federal government $10.6 billion over the next five years and $17.7 billion over the decade, the Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday.

The Water Quality Investment Act of 2009 would authorize $18.7 billion through 2014 for state revolving fund clean water programs that make grants and low-cost loans to water authorities and for other state and federal programs to clean up pollution.

Along with direct spending on water projects the federal government would lose some revenue on the debt that the water funds would take on, as any bonds would pay interest exempt from federal taxation, the CBO said. The measure also includes loan forgiveness.

The office, a nonpartisan agency that calculates budget effects of legislation, said those reductions would equal $700 million through 2019, but an increase on the tonnage charges on ships entering the United States, which is also part of the bill, would make up for the loss.

The CBO raised the prohibition against unfunded mandates, which bars the federal government from forcing states to implement costly programs without helping out financially. The office said states' costs of complying with reporting requirements in the bill would exceed the threshold of $69 million allowed by the unfunded mandates law.

Ultimately, though, the CBO said the bill would be considered "pay-go," meaning that any money spent would be covered by revenue and the bill would not contribute to the national debt.

The act passed out of committee last week and will now be considered by the full House. (Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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