August 2, 2009

Water and Wages Illustrate a Partisan Divide

By Michael Teitelbaum, CQ Politics
March 15, 2009
"The water companies have also dramatically increased their lobbying and federal election campaign spending. In Washington, they have already secured beneficial tax law changes and are now trying to persuade Congress to pass laws that would force cash-strapped municipal governments to consider privatization of their waterworks in exchange for federal grants and loans. Government and industry studies have estimated that U.S. cities will need between $150 billion and $1 trillion over the next three decades to upgrade their aging waterworks." - Bill Marsden, Cholera and the Age of the Water Barons, February 3, 2003
The House passed legislation March 12 reauthorizing $13.8 billion over five years in wastewater treatment grants and loans as part of a broader $19.4 billion package of water quality measures.

The bill passed, 317-101, after the House rejected a Republican amendment, 140-284, to strip language requiring contractors to pay prevailing wages. The bill (H.R. 1262: Water Quality Investment Act of 2009) included five water quality bills that separately passed the House in the last Congress.

Although the bill enjoyed solid bipartisan support, there was vigorous debate over an amendment by Connie Mack , R-Fla., that would have removed a provision applying the Davis-Bacon Act (PL 88-349) to projects receiving federal funding.

Davis-Bacon — a Depression-era law that enjoys union backing and is a lightning rod for Republican opposition — requires contractors on federal projects to pay prevailing wages. The water bill would extend that requirement to state and local projects receiving grants or loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund...

The underlying bill would reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans and grants to local communities for construction of wastewater treatment facilities, for the first time in 15 years.

It would provide $300 million each year through fiscal 2014 in state management assistance and $100 million in annual grants to nonprofit organizations to provide technical and management assistance in improving wastewater treatment systems in rural areas, small municipalities and tribal communities.

The bill includes a “Buy American” provision that would require most steel, iron and manufactured goods used in projects financed by the revolving fund to be produced in the United States.

House members expressed frustration that clean-water legislation stalled in the Senate in the last Congress. In combining five bills that passed the House last year, members said they hoped to make it easier for the Senate to clear the legislation.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to mark up its own water quality bill at the earliest opportunity, building off legislation that the panel approved in 2008...

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