Federal Water Tap, September 19: Senate Republicans Reveal Their Infrastructure Permitting Bill

The Rundown

  • The infrastructure permitting debate intensifies in the Senate.
  • The CDC will use wastewater testing to track the polio virus in the U.S.
  • A group of House Democrats introduces a resolution to recognize a human right to water.
  • A congressional delegation visits Pakistan to witness the aftermath of record-setting floods.
  • An interagency task report prepares a draft report on microfiber pollution in oceans and rivers.

And lastly, veterans and their families file thousands of claims for compensation from exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune.

“The water is not moving, primarily because this water is without a place to drain. There are no drainage facilities, if you will, in that area. So we will also have water-borne diseases, like hepatitis, dengue fever, malaria.” — Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) speaking on the House floor. The co-chair of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, Lee led a congressional delegation that visited the South Asian country earlier this month to view the damage from massive floods that have affected more than 33 million people. The U.S. government has provided $33 million in emergency aid, in addition to sending rapid response teams. International health agencies have started to report an uptick in disease, including those listed by Rep. Lee.

By the Numbers

5,000: Approximate number of claims submitted by veterans who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, Reuters reports. President Biden recently signed legislation that allowed veterans and their families to sue the federal government for compensation due to the toxic water at the base. The number of claims is likely to rise substantially. Lawyers told Reuters that as many as 500,000 claims could be filed, making it one of the largest mass litigations in U.S. history.

News Briefs

Republicans Introduce Infrastructure Permitting Bill
Nearly all Senate Republicans united in their charge to quicken energy infrastructure approval and handcuff federal regulatory processes.

The START Act does this in a number of ways. It would codify Trump-era rules regarding the scope of the Clean Water Act and the authority of state agencies to object to infrastructure projects.

The bill also puts a two-year time limit on environmental reviews for energy projects. In general, it prohibits an environmental review from exceeding 200 pages. And it provides a pathway for completing the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Tracking Polio in Wastewater
The CDC says it plans to test sewage samples for polio in areas at high risk for the virus, the Washington Post reports. That includes New York state, where polio virus is circulating.

Wastewater testing to track disease gained prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic. The nation’s top health agency is expanding its use.

The CDC used wastewater data to confirm the presence of polio virus in New York. The virus is now spreading among unvaccinated people in Rockland County.

Human Right to Water
A group of House Democrats introduced a resolution to recognize access to water, sanitation, electricity, and other utility services as human rights.

The resolution calls for bans on private water providers and shutting off water to customers who are behind on bills. It also seeks a guarantee that service will not be denied based on ability to pay.

Resolutions are not legally binding and amount to statements of purpose.

Studies and Reports

Microfiber Pollution
An interagency task force on marine debris has prepared a draft report on a particularly pervasive form of pollution: microfibers.

Ordered by Congress, the report includes a plan for reducing microfiber pollution and tracking its extent.

Microfibers come from various sources, including clothing, cigarettes, carpets, and fishing gear. Often made of plastic or other synthetic materials, microfibers are found in water, soil, and air.

Comments on the draft report are being accepted through October 17 via www.regulations.gov using docket number NOAA-NOS-2022-0061.

EPA Grant Recipient Spending Audits
In anticipation of increased federal infrastructure spending, the EPA Office of the Inspector General reviewed financial audits from the last three years for nonfederal agencies that received EPA grants.

The audits showed that two EPA programs that will distribute the bulk of federal infrastructure money – the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds – recorded the highest number of infractions. Those infractions can include improper procurement or errors in spending reports.

On the Radar

Jackson Water Crisis Investigation
The EPA Office of the Inspector General posted official notice that it will investigate the agency’s oversight of the city’s troubled water system and the administration of federal funds.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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