Annie Snider, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
In a major blow to House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster’s 10-month-long effort to craft a water resources bill that would pass muster with his conference, a coalition of fiscal conservative groups today came out in opposition to the legislation that is slated to hit the chamber’s floor tomorrow.
The Pennsylvania Republican’s $8.2 billion bipartisan “Water Resources Reform and Development Act,” H.R. 3080, “fails to deliver on the reform moniker,” according to a letter to House lawmakers written by 10 groups, including Heritage Action for America, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
“Our organizations would welcome significant reform of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works program,” they wrote. “But although H.R. 3080 contains reform in the title, it fails to deliver on that promise.”
How the groups’ opposition will affect the bill’s fate on the floor remains to be seen, though. The legislation passed out of committee unanimously, and Shuster has frequently pointed to the support that the bill has won from first-term, tea-party-backed Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who was a key player among the faction pressing for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act that led to the recent government shutdown.
“We are both constitutional conservatives, and he supports the bill,” Shuster told reporters last month after the committee’s approval of the bill. “There’s a lot of folks that are very conservative that have ports, harbors, floodplains, that know this is an important part, and constitutionally, this has been a role of the federal government over our 230 years.”
Among the groups’ complaints with the bill is its provision to increase the federal cost share for the budget-busting lock and dam project on the Ohio River that drew accusations of a “Kentucky Kickback” for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) when an authorization increase was included in last week’s fiscal deal.
Currently, the federal government splits the bill for new lock and dam projects with industry. But with most of the industry funds collected through a 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax going to the Olmsted project, an $8 billion backlog has piled up elsewhere on the system (Greenwire, Oct. 18). The House bill aims to free up some of those funds by shifting 75 percent of the remaining cost for the $2.9 billion Olmsted project to the federal government. The Senate bill, passed in May, would fully federalize Olmsted.
Ahead of this evening’s House Rules Committee meeting, amendments poured in. Among the 95 filed are amendments that would:
- delay controversial environmental streamlining provisions until more projects are deauthorized
- require a report from the Government Accountability Office on why the Olmsted project grew so far over budget
- increase the value of projects that would be deauthorized
- have the federal government pay to dredge waterways up to 50 feet — deep enough to accommodate mega-ships that will be able to pass through the Panama Canal when its expansion is complete
- fully spend funds collected through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund on dredging and channel maintenance
- create programs to combat invasive aquatic species
- block the finalization of recently withdrawn guidance from U.S. EPA on which streams and wetlands fall under the Clean Water Act and alter the application process for pollution discharge and dredge and fill permits under the Clean Water Act
- clarify the Clean Water Act’s definition of “fill material”
- prevent the Army Corps from requiring the removal of levee vegetation until the agency finalizes policy guidelines on the issue
- impose financial penalties on agencies that fail to render a Chief’s Report in a timely manner
- prevent EPA from retroactively vetoing Army Corps dredge and fill Clean Water Act permits.