Washington DC Update—November 2021
November has certainly been a historic month for infrastructure—specifically water infrastructure. After being passed by the Senate back in August, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, known colloquially as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package) languished in the House. This was largely due to disagreement on a second piece of legislation, the Build Back Better Act (the Democrats-only social spending and climate bill, also referred to as the Reconciliation bill). Progressives in the House had hoped for a bigger infrastructure bill (closer to what the President proposed back in March in his American Jobs Plan) but were okay to stomach a smaller bill in hopes of getting more of their priorities into a larger reconciliation bill that wouldn’t need bipartisan support. But in the Senate, more moderate Democrats were pushing for a narrower reconciliation bill. In a Senate with the narrowest of majorities Democrats could not afford to lose even a single vote, so finding something that satisfies House progressives and Senate moderates has been challenging.
- $225 million for the creation of a permanent, national low-income water customer assistance program
- $9 billion for lead remediation projects in disadvantaged communities. This is on top of the $15 billion in the infrastructure program, but rather than being delivered through the SRF programs this will instead be delivered through various competitive grant programs
- $975 million for lead remediation projects in rural disadvantaged communities, delivered through USDA programs
- $1.85 billion in CSO and SSO grants
- $150 million for individual household decentralized wastewater treatment grants
- $97 million for the USDA rural water and wastewater grant program
- $125 million for alternative water source projects, including groundwater recharge and potable water reuse
- $100 million for large-scale water reuse projects
- A change to tax policy that makes subsidies received by individuals for things like water conservation or efficiency tax-exempt (as such subsidies for energy conservation and efficiency are currently)
Though these are wins to celebrate for the water sector, the path forward remains unclear. Neither of the moderate Senators (Manchin of West Virginia and Sinema of Arizona) negotiating on the Build Back Better Act in the Senate have endorsed (or even support) the House-passed version. When, or even if, the Senate will consider and pass a compromise bill is unknown at this point. Now that the IIJA and the Build Back Better Act have been de-coupled, the negotiators lack a driving deadline and seem content to focus instead on other issues of more immediate concern (such as funding the government, raising the debt ceiling, and passing a massive annual defense authorization bill). Only time will tell the fate of the Build Back Better Act.