Senators seek Plan B for Flint deal, energy package

Source: Geof Koss and Amanda Reilly, E&E reporters • Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Senators from both parties huddled on the floor last night to plot a path forward for energy reform legislation and an aid package for Flint, Mich., after it appeared that at least one Republican senator wouldn’t agree to let both measures come up for a vote.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was refusing to agree to votes on the energy bill, S. 2012, and the separate Flint measure unless backers agreed to changes.

Disagreement over how to help Flint deal with its drinking water woes stalled progress on the energy bill. A hard-fought compromise to move forward on both measures would provide $220 million for Flint and other communities by taking money from a Department of Energy advanced vehicle technology program.

But Lee wants new language affecting that offset. “It says that Michigan has enough money to take care of its own needs and it also narrows it down,” Inhofe said of Lee’s proposed language.

Pressed on whether he and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a key proponent of Flint aid, could accept Lee’s language, Inhofe responded: “I can’t see that happening.”

If lawmakers are going to take money away from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program for Flint, they should do so right away, says Lee, rather than waiting several years.

Senate Budget Committee Republican staff have also warned that the ATVM offset may not fly because it was originally approved as emergency spending.

Last night, Stabenow told E&E Daily that Lee’s Friday statement detailing his objection was “very disappointing.” She said, “We’ve got a bipartisan proposal, and it’s time to vote. We are looking for a vote.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told reporters he planned to talk to Lee about his objections. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to find some common ground,” Peters said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll work on Plan B.”

Pressed on what Plan B was, Peters responded, “I’ll know that after I talk to Lee.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) cast blame for the holdup squarely on Lee. “I think if Lee removes his objection, we’re set to go,” he told reporters last night.

But Schumer suggested a way out of the impasse. “There’s always the opportunity to do the Flint bill separately, but you’d have to file cloture,” he said, pointing to Senate procedure requiring 60 votes to overcome a member’s objection. “We’re not up to that yet.”

The stalemate with Lee is the latest roadblock in efforts to free the Flint issue from the energy bill, which has languished for weeks.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pulled the energy legislation from the floor last month to allow more time to sort out the Flint crisis.

Senators last week, including Inhofe, thought they were close to agreement on the issue. “I thought we’d got off that, but apparently, he’s not going to do that,” Inhofe said of Lee.

The spending fight also comes as the Flint issue seems to be picking up political steam ahead of Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s long-awaited appearance next week before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (E&E Daily, March 7).

EPA administrator says ‘Grow up’

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy yesterday blamed the state for lead contamination in Flint’s drinking water. She’s also scheduled to testify next week.

In a speech to the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C., yesterday, McCarthy suggested that the state had failed in its duty to ensure clean drinking water for Flint residents, all in the name of saving a few bucks. She didn’t mention Snyder by name.

“We are here because a state-appointed emergency manager decided that the city of Flint would stop purchasing treated water from a source that they’ve been relying on for 50 years and instead switch to an untreated source,” McCarthy said.

She continued: “Why? There was simply one reason I could think of. And it’s called money. The state of Michigan approved that decision.”

McCarthy noted that EPA Region 5 raised red flags about the city’s water quality but said her agency failed to convince Michigan, “like we do with every other state,” to be a partner in solving the issue.

“We are looking at every nook and cranny to see why we didn’t succeed in convincing Michigan,” McCarthy said. “We did not succeed in doing that, and I need to figure out why to never let that happen again.”

In a statement yesterday after the Democratic presidential debate in Flint, Snyder pledged to fix the crisis. Snyder said he has proposed spending more than $230 million on Flint residents.

“I am committed to the people of Flint,” he said. “I will fix this crisis and help move Flint forward. Long-term solutions are what the people of Flint need and what I am focused on delivering for them.”

Democrats next week are likely to blame the state Republican administration, while McCarthy can expect to hear GOP criticism that EPA didn’t go far enough to address the crisis.

McCarthy pressed for a broader conversation about drinking water, citing studies that have put an $800 billion price tag on improving degraded infrastructure. Last week, she sent a letter to every governor urging them to work with EPA on addressing safe drinking water.

McCarthy issued a broad call for more resources at the local, state and federal level, saying that climate change would exacerbate the problems water infrastructure already faces.

“I know in a recession environmental protection budgets are often the first things that get cut. I understand that,” McCarthy said. But, she added, “We can’t rely on investments 50 years ago and think they’re going to lead the charge and keep us safe the next 50 years. Grow up.”