Panel extends aid to emergency responders

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee took on emergency preparedness and energy conservation Wednesday, approving bills to aid first responders and increase the energy savings and environmental benefits from certain federally funded projects committee on unanimous voice votes.

The first, the "Emergency Preparedness and Response Act of 2003," would establish a program to provide first responders and urban search and rescue task forces with funds to enhance their ability to prepare for and respond to all hazards.

The bill (S. 930) would authorize $3.34 billion for first responder grants for fiscal 2004 and $3.46 billion a year for fiscal 2005 through 2007. For urban search and rescue task forces, it would authorize $160 million for fiscal 2004 and $42 million a year for fiscal 2005 through 2007.

States and the District of Columbia would receive a base amount of funds equal to 0.75 of the authorized amount for each fiscal year and a percentage of the remaining funds based on the existence of high-threat areas and other vulnerability criteria, such as population, location of critical infrastructure, location of public buildings and location of nationally significant sites.

Any of the 28 urban search and rescue task forces designated by the Department of Homeland Security at the time of the bill's enactment could expect at least $1.5 million a year for operational costs and may receive additional discretionary grants for other costs, including equipment, training and transportation.

Ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt., noted that the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has reported a similar bill authorizing funding for first responders, and said he looked forward to working with Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., and the Governmental Affairs panel to bring a bill to the floor.

Without debate or dissent, the committee granted unanimous consent to accept the Inhofe-Jeffords manager's amendment containing clarifying changes to the bill.

Among other things, the manager's amendment would increase the federal share of an eligible project's cost from 75 percent to 80 percent, and allow direct funding to limited number of localities based on the governors' recommendations, but permit the department to bypass a governor's recommendations "in extraordinary circumstances."

Also adopted by voice vote were two second-degree amendments by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to authorize funding for a first-responder training center in Sacramento and for four multi-state regional academies to train first responders.

The committee reported out the bill by voice vote.

In other action, the panel approved legislation (S. 793) to increase the use of "recovered mineral component" in cement and concrete purchased by the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies that buy material for cement and concrete projects.

The bill would give the Environmental Protection Agency and relevant agency heads one year after enactment to implement all procurement requirements and incentives component in cement or concrete projects.

It would direct agency heads to give priority to achieving greater use of recovered mineral component in projects that historically have used little to no recovered mineral content. The bill defines recovered mineral content as ground-granulated blast furnace slag, coal combustion fly ash, and "any other waste material or byproduct recovered or diverted from solid waste" that EPA determines should be treated as recovered mineral component for use in cement or concrete projects.

The measure also calls for the EPA and the Transportation and Energy departments to determine the extent to which procurement requirements, when fully implemented, produce energy savings and environmental benefits due to the substitution of recovered mineral component in cement used in cement or concrete projects.

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