May 15, 2013 – 12:09 p.m.
Senate Passes Water Resources Measure
By Anne L. Kim, CQ Roll Call
The Senate on Wednesday passed legislation that would authorize water projects for navigation, flood control and environmental restoration.
The chamber passed the measure (S 601) 83-14 after considering several amendments, including proposals concerning beach nourishment and using domestic goods in constructing projects.
Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., was the lone Democrat to join 13 Republicans in voting in opposition to the bill.
The House is expected to take up its own measure, but the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has not yet introduced legislation.
Before passing the bill, the chamber rejected 43-53 a proposal by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn to remove provisions that would set up a process to allow for an extension of federal funding for projects to replenish sand from outside sources onto beaches in order to counteract erosion. Specifically, the bill would allow localities to request the Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of extending federal funding for beach nourishment projects for up to 15 years beyond the current 50 year limit. Recommendations would be reported to Congress and funding could be temporarily extended while a study is being conducted. .
Coburn said his amendment was aimed at reducing states’ dependence on the federal government and that the underlying bill would further it. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., opposed the amendment, arguing that such projects help coastal communities against storm damage and that the bill wouldn’t guarantee an extension, but simply direct the corps to study and make recommendations on the matter.
Another Coburn amendment, rejected 35-61, would have removed exemptions provided for certain projects from review by a commission that would be tasked with deauthorizing Army Corps of Engineers water resource projects that no longer serve the federal interest and are unfeasible.
Coburn said his proposal expands the review commission so that it could look at all projects. He contended that the bill as written would protect projects he called earmarks that were authorized after 1996.
Boxer argued that the provisions in the bill were targeted at older, inactive projects since the commission would be a new endeavor and countered that there was no intention to protect earmarks.
She called Coburn’s proposal a “bridge too far,” saying the bill would protect active projects while directing the commission to review inactive ones.
The Senate adopted, 60-36, an amendment by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley that would require projects financed by a program that provide loans and loan guarantees for flood control, drinking water and wastewater projects to use domestically produced goods, iron and steel.
Exemptions would be provided if using these domestic products would: Not be in the public interest, increase the project’s cost by more than 25 percent, or if the quality or quantity of the domestic products are not sufficient.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate adopted a modified proposal by John Hoeven, R-N.D., that would bar the corps from charging fees for certain surplus water. It adopted an amendment by voice vote by John Boozman, R-Ark., that would let the corps participate in a recreational pass program.
New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall decided not to offer his proposal that would set a five-year sunset date for a section of the bill designed to expedite the environmental permitting process for water projects. Those provisions have drawn the ire of environmental groups and some of their Senate allies.
The chamber on Tuesday adopted a similar amendment by Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., that would terminate those provisions after 10 years.
The bill would authorize construction of Army Corps of Engineers water projects that have completed Chief of Engineers reports and for which the head of the corps of recommended to Congress. It also would ramp up money available from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for dredging and other harbor projects until 2020, when all money deposited into the fund for a given year would need to be available for such projects.
The legislation also contains provisions designed to speed up the environmental permitting process. For example, it would set financial penalties for agencies that do not make permitting decisions within a certain time frame. Depending on the type of review required, either $10,000 or $20,000 would be shifted each week from the head of the agency to the division charged with completing the review.
It also would create a national levee safety program, establish a program to provide loans for flood control, drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects, and create a commission to deauthorize Army Corps of Engineers water projects.
Nathan Hurst and Lauren Gardner contributed to this report.
Source: CQ News
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