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The Senate approved a disaster relief bill Jan. 28 that would appropriate $607.7 million for the Environmental Protection Agency, mostly to repair water utilities in New York and New Jersey that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy and to prepare them for future storms.
Approved on a vote of 62-38, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 152) would appropriate $500 million for the clean water state revolving fund and $100 million for the drinking water SRF to help water utilities in those two states repair water systems damaged by Sandy and prepare for future natural disasters.
The Senate's action follows House approval earlier in January and clears the bill for President Obama, who has indicated his support for the measure.
Under the bill, use of the SRF funds would not be allowed for utilities in any other states that were damaged by Sandy.
The legislation also would include $5 million for repair of leaking underground storage tanks, $2 million to stabilize superfund sites, and $725,000 for other EPA programs.
The Senate action follows the House approval of H.R. 152 Jan. 15. The amount appropriated for EPA by Congress is close to the $617 million requested by the White House in December. The White House had sought an additional $10 million for wetlands protection (11 DEN A-15, 1/16/13).
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) called the vote “a belated but much needed response” for the hurricane-stricken states, which have been pressing Congress to pass the measure. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said H.R. 152 is “key to helping ensure that we both lessen the taxpayer costs of cleaning up after future storms as well as reduce the number of lives and properties lost from these powerful natural disasters.”
The bill provides a total of $50.5 billion for agencies throughout the government to react to the storm. But a previously enacted $9.7 billion flood insurance bill brings funding up to the more than $60 billion level the president requested for storm assistance.
The Senate gave final approval to the spending bill on a vote of 62-36 as one of its first actions in the new Congress.
Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast on Oct. 29 with torrential downpours and storm surges that caused widespread damage and overwhelmed combined sewer systems and sanitary sewer systems. New York and New Jersey were particularly hard-hit.
Aside from funds for EPA, the bill would provide about $360 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including $50 million for mapping, charting, and marine debris surveys for hurricane-damaged coastal states; $7 million to repair and replace ocean observing and coastal monitoring assets; and $3 million to provide technical assistance for state assessments of coastal impacts of Hurricane Sandy.
The bill also would appropriate about $5.2 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help restore beaches, navigation channels, and other damaged infrastructure to pre-storm conditions and assist with dredging and sustainability efforts as well as repairs and authorized improvements to flood control efforts in the affected areas.
Dan Hartnett, director of legislative affairs at the Association for Metropolitan Water Agencies, told BNA Jan. 28 that the state revolving fund program money was not limited to drinking water and wastewater utilities that were damaged by the hurricane. Rather, Hartnett said, the legislation would allow the funds to be used to prepare infrastructure to withstand future storms.
Hartnett noted that this is the first bill to provide funds to help water and wastewater utilities to adapt to changing hydrological conditions. “It's something we have been advocating for a while. It's a very good start because it lays groundwork for more comprehensive policies and assistance,” he said.
The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 152) is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr152rds/pdf/BILLS-113hr152rds.pdf.
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