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Flint Funding and the Senate Energy Bill

Despite a common desire to help Flint, Michigan recover from its water woes, members of the Senate have fallen back into the trap of politics v. policy.  At issue is the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S 2012), a 424-page bipartisan approach to enhance energy efficiency, energy infrastructure, energy-water innovations, and selected conservation initiatives.  Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair and Ranking Member (respectively) of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, worked diligently to develop a measure that was generally well regarded on both sides of the aisle and was ready for a final vote on the Senate Floor…until Flint.

Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Michigan Democrats, saw an opportunity to add an amendment to the Energy Bill to, among a series of lead-related conditions, provide significant financial support to the city of Flint, principally in the form of grants or loans with “principal forgiveness” provisions.  The total authorization was set at $600 million.  Not surprisingly, this delayed the vote.  A number of Senators raised concerns about the amendment’s provisions – both for the funding and other legislative aspects.  Some Senators also are concerned about the precedent of authorizing significant federal dollars to solve a state and local problem.

In response to expressed funding concerns, Senator Murkowski offered a separate amendment to provide $50 million in direct, immediate grants and up to $550 million in subsequent loans to the community.  Most of the loans, however, would have a repayment requirement.  Both the House and Senate now require financial offsets for new funding proposals and the loan portion would have come through the WIFIA fund.  This funding proposal also failed with opponents believing that $50 million is an inadequate response to the size of the problem.

At this stage, the bipartisan nature of support for the Energy Bill has disintegrated and Democrats and Republicans alike are pointing fingers.  Both Senators Murkowski and Cantwell have signaled their intent to continue to work on the Energy Bill with an eye to finding another compromise related to Flint.