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Capito, Manchin praise passage of water infrastructure measure

WASHINGTON — While negotiations continue between U.S. Senate Republicans, Democrats, and the White House on an infrastructure package, lawmakers got a head start on key drinking water and wastewater legislation that could bode well for future discussions.

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced the passage Thursday of S.914, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021. The bill passed 89-2, with only Republican U.S. Senators Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voting against it.

The bill was a project of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Capito is the ranking Republican member. The bill had early bipartisan support in committee, with Capito co-writing the bill with Senators Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., Tom Carper, D-Del., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

“Yes, we’ve worked together bipartisan,” Capito said in a Thursday afternoon virtual briefing with press. “We’ve worked on programs that will help West Virginia’s smaller (water) systems, septic tanks, water workforce, things I hear all the time when I’m in West Virginia that are real challenges to small water systems.”

The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act provides $35 billion in funding for drinking water and wastewater development projects. The funding will allow upgrades to aging water pipeline and wastewater infrastructure — with some systems dating back to the Depression-era Works Progress Administration — which are prone to leaks, burst pipes, and drinking water pollution.

According to the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, the nation’s drinking water systems received a C-. According to estimates, there are water main breaks across the country nearly every two minutes with more than 6 billion gallons of treated water lost every year due to leaks and bursts.

Much of the $35 billion will be made available through grants from the Environmental Protection Agency that state, county and municipal governments can apply for.

“We’re moving forward with the modernization of our drinking water and wastewater with aids to the state and to the locals,” Capito said. “We’re very excited about what we’ve seen.”

In a statement Thursday, Manchin praised the passage of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act.

“I always say that every West Virginian and American deserves clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe,” Manchin said.

“This bipartisan legislation will upgrade and replace water infrastructure throughout West Virginia, as well as improve access to safe drinking water by allocating funds for rural and disadvantaged communities. I am pleased that this legislation includes funding to support our priorities in the state, and I’ll continue fighting to ensure all West Virginians have access to clean drinking water.”

Capito said the nearly unanimous passage of the water infrastructure bill is a positive sign for future negotiations on a larger infrastructure package.

President Joe Biden proposed a $2.3 trillion wide-ranging infrastructure package paid for by rolling back tax cuts put in place during the Trump administration. Capito and Senate Republicans have a narrowly tailored $568 billion infrastructure package paid for with unspent COVID-19 relief dollars and user fees.

While there is some disagreement between the two parties on the scope of an infrastructure package, Biden signaled during his joint address to Congress on Wednesday evening his satisfaction with the effort by Capito and Senate Republicans to negotiate.

Capito announced on social media Thursday night that she spoke with Biden about infrastructure, their proposals, and the areas of agreement between both proposals.

“We both expressed our mutual desire to work together and find common ground to address these challenges and deliver results for the American people,” Capito said. “I stand ready to be a partner in advancing infrastructure legislation in a bipartisan way — just as we’ve done in the past.”

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