Senate Democrats team up with Republicans to block energy bill in fight over aid for Flint
Senate Democrats, teaming up with a band of Republicans, on Thursday blocked a wide-ranging U.S. energy bill in a fight over aid to help Flint, Michigan cope with a drinking water crisis.
The Republican-led Senate failed in two procedural votes to advance the energy bill after behind-the-scenes bipartisan talks broke down.
Negotiators still hope to find a compromise on an amendment that would have rushed millions of dollars to Michigan to help replace Flint’s contaminated water system and provide healthcare to victims.
The legislation fell far short of the 60 votes needed to clear procedural roadblocks and bring it to a vote.
Democrats are making support for Flint, a poor city of mostly African Americans and Latinos near Detroit, a wider issue ahead of the November presidential election. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are set to hold a presidential debate next month in Flint.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and a co-sponsor of the bill, proposed making up to $550 million available to Flint. But only $50 million would be immediately available to the city, where thousands of children have ingested lead from polluted water, and the water is still dangerous.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about how quickly it could get to the state and the form of it. What we need is dollars up front,” Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan told reporters after the vote.
Under direction of a state emergency manager, financially strapped Flint changed its water supply in 2014 from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. The more corrosive water from the river that runs past dumping grounds caused lead to leach from aging pipes, in Flint, a city of 100,000.
Lead is a toxin that can harm the brains of children and cause other health problems.Stabenow and fellow Michigan Senator Gary Peters had proposed an amendment to the bill to direct up to $600 million in aid to Flint.
The energy bill would have taken steps to speed permitting of liquefied natural gas facilities, fund research into advanced nuclear reactors and to protect the power grid from cyber attacks.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said Democrats were trying to “embarrass” Republicans by making it look like they did not want to help Flint.
Stabenow noted, however, that when a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas in 2013, Congress quickly directed millions of dollars to the area to deal with that crisis.
“People of Michigan… through their tax dollars have stood with Senator Cornyn to help the people of Texas; we are asking Senator Cornyn now to appreciate and support the Americans who live in Flint,” Stabenow told reporters.
Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma had proposed a deal in which money for Flint would come from a fund for advanced vehicles. Democrats said the deal would harm workers in the region, an automotive industry hub.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Bernadette Baum)