Flint talks continue as clock ticks on Senate bill

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee are working to keep their bipartisan energy package alive, while discussions continue on possible aid to help the residents of Flint, Mich., cope with their lead-contaminated drinking water.

In a joint statement yesterday afternoon, Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said they worked over the weekend to “clear a path” for the bill, which became bogged down last week over Democrats’ demands that aid for Flint be included.

“We have spoken with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to remind them of the many good provisions in our bill,” the pair said. “And we have gauged what might be possible to help the people of Flint, Michigan and other Americans impacted by contaminated drinking water.”

The statement comes as the clock is ticking on the energy debate, which has stretched on for over a week and appears to be running out of time. The Senate on Wednesday morning is slated to move to a bill imposing sanctions on North Korea.

Murkowski and Cantwell acknowledged the dilemma.

“With our time on the Senate floor running short, we are working toward an agreement to allow our energy bill to move forward,” they said. “At the same time, we are working to help advance a measure to address the Flint water crisis and hope that it will be brought up as soon as possible.”

Senate aides said discussions are still focused on providing help for Flint within the energy bill, although other legislative avenues are emerging, as well.

The House on Wednesday will vote on a bill (H.R. 4470) that would require U.S. EPA and states to notify residents when lead levels in drinking water are exceeded, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) today called for funds for Flint to be included in an expected emergency funding request from the administration to prepare for the Zika virus (see related story).

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee, said today that she hadn’t seen the Murkowski-Cantwell statement but said detangling Flint from the energy debate “may be the best direction to go” if possible.

“I think the energy bill has a lot of important issues, certainly for my state and many others around country, and I’d hate to see progress halted on it,” she told E&ENews PM.

In floor remarks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) referenced Democrats’ objection last week for making a number of amendments pending to the bill. That objection was followed by a Democratic filibuster on two procedural votes on the energy package, effectively bringing the debate to a halt (Greenwire, Feb. 4).

“I’m asking colleagues to take ‘yes’ for an answer and allow the open amendment process to continue — so we can pass it, which is so important to helping our country prepare for the energy demands of today and the energy opportunities of tomorrow,” McConnell said.