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Congress reaffirms commitment to clean water legislation

A bill to amend the Clean Water Act, already vetoed by the President during the last session of Congress, is back on the White House steps, the first legislation to pass the 100th Congress. A major feature of the Clean Water Act is the provision of federal construction grants for sewage-treatment facilities. States will be eligible for these grants through 1991. Thereafter, the federal grants will be used to set up revolving loan funds run by the states, with repayments from initial loans going toward future projects.

The $20 billion bill will tighten water pollution controls, and establish new programs to protect estuaries and clean up toxic pollutants in water. The legislation also gives states 18 months to develop plans to control ``non-point pollution,'' such as petroleum residue from city streets and pesticide runoff from agricultural land.

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Identical legislation passed the House and Senate last October without opposition. ``Possibly a motherhood resolution, but not much else will pass with those overwhelming margins,'' says the bill's author, Sen. John H. Chafee (R) of Rhode Island. With such overwhelming bipartisan support, a presidential veto is expected to be easily overridden. Some observers say that a veto override so early in the new Congress could damage the President's standing.

At least some of the bill's popularity with members of Congress is tied to its role as an economic stimulus and jobs generator in virtually every congressional district in the country. The White House was unsuccessful in offering an amendment to the Senate bill that would have reduced funding to $12 billion.

Republican supporters of the bill hope the President will reverse his opposition in light of congressional determination, and take some credit for the measure's passage. President Reagan has three choices:

Veto the bill and bear the ``embarrassment'' of a certain congressional override.

Sign the bill and join in the credit for clean water legislation.

Ignore the bill, which will automatically become law 10 days after Congress sends it to him.

Lee Thomas, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected to urge the President to sign the bill, but White House press spokesman Larry Speakes announced that senior administration advisers will ask Reagan to veto it as a ``budget buster.''

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Administration officials say they support clean water but oppose the $20 billion price tag as being inappropriate during a time of high federal deficits.

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