March 12, 2009 / 10:24 PM / 9 years ago

House passes water bill with billions for states

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill on Thursday that would dedicate $19.4 billion to water and wastewater infrastructure, including $13.8 billion for state’s water funds over five years.

The legislation, which passed 317 to 101, also contains $2.5 billion in grants for addressing sewer overflows, $250 million for alternative water source projects, and $750 million for combating water pollution in the Great Lakes.

The bill would require states to provide principal forgiveness and negative-interest loans for water projects to low income communities.

The Senate must now take up the bill, which is a combination of five pieces of legislation that passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate.

“Despite the obvious need for clean, potable water, Federal funding for Clean Water State Revolving Funds has been dramatically cut in recent years, but that is about to change,” said Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar, the Democrat who chairs the House Infrastructure Committee, in a statement, pressing the Senate to pass the bill.

Currently, there is no corresponding legislation in the Senate.

The funds distribute grants and low-cost loans to water authorities, and the authorities often issue bonds to leverage the federal funding. The stimulus bill enacted last month will send another $2 billion to the revolving funds.

Republicans tried to remove from the legislation a requirement that anyone working on a project funded by the bill be paid at least the prevailing local wage. They were concerned that the “Davis-Bacon provisions,” named after a 78-year-old labor law, would push up the costs for contractors and other members of the private sector involved in the projects.

An amendment to delete the provisions was defeated 140 to 284.

Laborers’ International Union of North America said keeping them would maintain local living standards.

“A strong majority of the House of Representatives stood up to protect workers’ paychecks and stop corporate interests from cutting workers’ pay,” the construction union’s president Terry O‘Sullivan said in a statement.

Analyzing a version of the bill that was slightly smaller, the Congressional Budget Office found the water programs would cost the federal government $17.7 billion over the next decade.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert

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