WASHINGTON — A Senate committee on Thursday approved a $220 million aid package for Flint, Michigan, as the city struggles to deal with a water crisis and public health emergency from lead-contaminated pipes.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee backed the bipartisan deal as part of a broader, $4.8 billion bill that authorizes water-related projects across the country for flood control, harbor deepening and other steps.
The bill was approved, 19-1, and could come up for a Senate vote in May.
The measure would authorize $100 million in grants and loans to replace lead-contaminated pipes in Flint and other cities with lead emergencies, as well as $70 million toward loans to improve water infrastructure across the country. It also includes $50 million to bolster lead-prevention programs and improve children’s health nationwide.
The legislation would require the Environmental Protection Agency to warn the public about high lead levels in drinking water if a state or locality fails to do so. The House has passed similar legislation.
The EPA has come under bipartisan criticism for failing to notify Flint residents about lead in the water after problems became known last year.
The bill authorizes 25 projects in 17 states to be overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control, navigation and port improvements, including at Port Everglades, Florida and Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
It includes a Democratic-sponsored provision that authorizes $300 million over five years to remove lead pipes from houses, schools and day care centers nationwide.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the committee chairman, said the measure builds on a similar 2014 law and “provides needed investments in America’s infrastructure to support our communities and expand our economy.”
In a related development, Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., introduced legislation that would set tougher drinking water standards nationwide for lead. Kildee’s bill would reduce the threshold amount of lead found in drinking water from 15 parts per billion to 5 ppb by 2026. Under EPA rules, water systems across the country must take steps to control corrosion if lead concentrations exceed 15 ppb in more than 10 percent of customer taps sampled.
Kildee’s bill would first set the lead standard at 10 ppb by 2020, in line with a proposal by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
“The Flint water crisis has been a wake-up call to cities and towns across the United States that we must do more to protect our families from the threat of lead in our drinking water,” Kildee said.
Nearly 1,500 water systems serving 3.3 million Americans have exceeded the EPA’s lead cap of 15 ppb at least once in the past three years. If Michigan’s proposed new standard of 10 ppb were applied across the country, that number jumps to more than 2,500 systems with 18.3 million customers — a fivefold increase, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data.