Editorial: House should move Flint relief bills

The Detroit News

All that stands between Flint and the federal funds it needs to push ahead the rebuilding of its tainted water system is approval by the House of an aid bill that has already sailed through the Senate. That chamber should move the package quickly, and help Flint put its water crisis in the past.

The legislation would send $100 million to Flint for its water infrastructure. While that’s not enough money to fully replace all of the city’s water lines, it would certainly help remove those most responsible for leeching lead into the water supply and complete other needed upgrades of the system.

The key piece of the package, negotiated by Michigan’s Democratic Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, provides an additional $100 million to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

As written, the money is only available to communities that have received a federal emergency declaration from the president due to high levels of lead in their water supply. Currently, only Flint meets that requirement.

And it can get the money just by submitting a comprehensive plan for its use to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Flint and the state are prepared to do that. But first the legislation, which passed the Senate on a 95-3 vote, has to get through the House.

Michigan’s congressional delegation must pick up the baton from Peters and Stabenow and get the bills moving.

The infrastructure fixes recommended by an independent consultant firm will cost Flint more than $200 million, including the $80 million estimated cost of replacing 10,000 lead service lines. These federal funds will go a long way toward meeting that need.

In addition to the $100 million, the legislation will also give the state the flexibility to use the revolving loan money to forgive Flint’s $20 million existing obligation to the fund.

It also sets aside $70 million to activate $1 billion in low interest loans to finance water infrastructure projects nationwide.

And it includes $50 million in public health funds to create a national registry to monitor children who have been exposed to lead; educate the public on the effects of lead and how to avoid poisoning, and help states identify public safety issues associated with lead, mold, radon and carbon monoxide in homes.

The House has been reluctant to send aid to Flint, not wanting to add to the federal deficit to pay for what it sees as the state’s responsibility.

But this package is fully paid for, according to the senators, by sunsetting funding for an existing Energy Department program.

We’ve held from the beginning that the federal government has an obligation to Flint because of the bungling by the EPA in sounding an alarm about the lead crisis.

Part of this legislation would more clearly define the agency’s responsibility, requiring it to notify residents of the results of lead monitoring if a state fails to do so.

Flint needs this money. Trust in the city’s drinking water will not be restored until the infrastructure rebuilding is complete. The House should give the package the same overwhelming support that the Senate did.