From E&E News: Opposition to WRDA widens; passage uncertain

Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Republican leaders in the Senate continued to push toward a vote on a water projects bill by the end of this week, amid signs the task is becoming more complicated.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) will block the water measure — called the “Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act,” S. 612 — over the removal of an earlier provision addressing a water dispute among Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

That wrinkle comes on top of California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer’s vocal opposition to a last-minute drought relief measure added by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) with the help of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“Everything is difficult at this time,” Feinstein told reporters.

Even with the hurdles, Republican leaders vowed to move ahead and told reporters they believe Congress will pass the legislation, which also includes $170 million to help Flint, Mich., recover from lead water contamination, by the end of this week.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and lead sponsor of the bill, said the Senate could vote Friday or possibly Saturday morning — an indication that the late drama is complicating quick passage.

Inhofe said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) planned a procedural move to limit debate, which could force the measure to a late-week vote.

The Southeast water provision deals with the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River systems, and long-brewing concerns about how much water should be released to the benefit of wildlife.

The legislation released this week removes a provision from the 2014 water projects bill that expressed concern about the management of those systems, indicating Congress would step in if the three states didn’t reach a resolution.

Confirming his hold on the water bill, Shelby said: “Other people got holds on that bill for other reasons [too], at the moment it’s probably going nowhere. But things change.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) had threatened to block the legislation in a push for a miner benefits bill. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) made a similar threat over energy reform talks.

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.