Editor’s Note: Marked updates are from Monday, December 12, 2016. The Senate passed the bill early Saturday morning and President Barrack Obama signed it shortly thereafter.
In the last major bill of the final 2016 legislative session, Congress is expected to pass the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act (S. 612), which includes the Water
Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA), the Water and Waste Act of 2016 and an array of additional measures to address natural resources legislation and agreements and infrastructure needs.
Key among the decisions packed into the bill are measures to address cities and regions experiencing some of the most critical funding needs wrought by 2016’s greatest challenges.
#1 Flint, Mich., Gets Federal Aid
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and more than 100 groups sent an open letter to Congress demanding emergency aid before the close of the session. It’s been more than 400 days the city is without drinking water.
The WRDA measure in WIIN authorizes $170 million to rebuild the city’s water system, with a small portion of the funding to help a few other communities with compromised drinking water.
#2 The Los Angeles Region Gets Water Supply Project Funding & Shifts Water Rights
California’s democratic senators went head-to-head on WRDA with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s California drought resolution rider recently tacked on to the legislation. California Senator Barbara Boxer called the rider a “poison pill” because it had the potential to kill WRDA’s earmark for the city of Flint.
WIIN authorizes $558 million for desalination, water recycling and dam and groundwater storage projects in southern California.
Opponents said it’s an unfair plan to divert more water to San Joaquin Valley farmers and Los Angeles area water users. The White House and the Department of the Interior reportedly oppose the rider.
Feinstein and proponents argued that the projects authorized in the rider increase efficiency by capturing wasted water, and protect against reopening the Endangered Species Act to allow for increased pumping for agricultural purposes.
Retiring Senator Boxer protested the package language directing the pumping of more water to agriculture. According to Raw Story, she called the drought rider ugly and vowed that this water diversion would end up in court because it will destroy fisheries and habitats. Feinstein cited the measure as protection for small farmers going bankrupt and insisted she worked with many parties through several versions. Boxer did not concede, voting against the bill, because of the measure.
#3 New York City is Paid 1/5th of the President-Elect Trump Police Detail Expense
Big Apple Mayor Bill de Blasio also wrote Washington, D.C., about its estimated $35 million expense to protect the area around the Manhattan home and offices of Donald Trump, where the president-elect’s transition team is based.
It is reportedly costing the city $500,000 per day for the New York Police Department to secure the perimeter around the 58-story tower off of Fifth Avenue, which it is charged to do until inauguration day, January 20, 2017.
WIIN authorizes $7 million, just 1/5th of the bill.
#4 Appalachia Coal Miners Receive 120 Days Relief From Expiring Healthcare Benefits
The Miners Protection Act was actually pulled from WIIN, and in its place is a four-month funding measure that is expected to create a battle under the rotunda between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia.
WIIN helps pay for the health care benefits of 22,000 miners while Congress considers the matter further, but Manchin and other critics vehemently oppose the replacement solution.
The larger issue is how Congress will deal with underfunded coal miner pensions and healthcare over the long-term. A previous proposal to transfer funds to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to protect the dwindling 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan and Trust failed. The pension plan, which pays a $530 average monthly benefit, is underfunded and approaching insolvency.
Update: As reported in The Hill, on Friday at 7 pm, democrats led by Senator Manchin conceded they did not have the votes needed to block the bill and would not shut down the government over temporary relief for the miners. They had stalled voting for nearly an hour to discuss how a four-month extension could risk long-term loss of health benefits to the coal miners if the next Congress does not extend relief in the spring, according to The Wall Street Journal.
#5 Fire-Pocked Lake Tahoe Gets Millions for Environmental Restoration
The Nevada and California Lake Tahoe region, often ravaged by wildfires, received significant funding through the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act.
WIIN provides $415 million to the region, including $150 million for wildfire prevention focused on fuel reduction and forest revitalization and $80 million for improvements ranging from creek restoration to new trails.
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