Western Water: Feinstein Touts “Progress” on Drought Bill

WESTERN WATER: Feinstein touts ‘progress’ on drought bill

Debra Kahn, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) quest to introduce a bill addressing California’s drought continued yesterday when she sat down with federal officials responsible for ensuring compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Negotiations with California House Republicans fell apart late last week, but Feinstein said yesterday that she still intends to introduce a bill this week. She met yesterday with federal wildlife agencies, which have been skeptical of previous attempts to adjust protections for endangered fish in the state’s main water hub, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

“Progress has been made, but discussions are ongoing,” said Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer.

Feinstein and House Republicans have been working for the past two years on legislation dealing with California’s ongoing drought, now in its fourth year. One of the main points of contention has been over whether to maintain existing Endangered Species Act protections for salmon and smelt in the delta, the source of water for more than 25 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland.

The federal agencies earlier this month took a dim view of drought language that they had been asked to review by the House and Senate. In Dec. 1 comments<http://www.eenews.net/assets/2015/12/16/document_daily_01.pdf>, the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned of the “prospects of a fresh round of litigation that can further distract resources and focus” from operating California’s massive state and federal water delivery projects and evaluating a proposal from Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to revamp the delta by building tunnels underneath it.

“We are deeply concerned that the Cal drought legislation will from an operational perspective impose significant analytical requirements that will entirely or significantly displace these priorities,” the agencies wrote.

Feinstein said yesterday she was “absolutely” committed to releasing a bill this week, which she has said will go through regular order via the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee rather than being inserted in the omnibus spending bill, as Republicans had attempted.

Feinstein and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had until last week been working on a compromise bill that included elements of H.R. 2898<https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/hr2898/BILLS-114hr2898rfs.pdf>, the House-passed bill by Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), as well as S. 1894<https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s1894/BILLS-114s1894is.pdf>, Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) proposal to increase federal agencies’ flexibility to send more water south while also making significant investments in desalination, water recycling and other long-term efforts.

Valadao’s bill would go further than the senators’ version in loosening environmental restrictions in order to pump more water from the delta to parched agricultural communities in the Central Valley and municipalities farther south. It drew a veto threat earlier this year from President Obama (E&ENews PM<http://www.eenews.net/eenewspm/stories/1060021795/>, July 14).

But on Dec. 4, McCarthy leaked a version of their bill that Feinstein had not yet signed off on, incurring her wrath. Republicans downplayed the error and went on the defensive, accusing Feinstein of “moving the goalposts” during negotiations (Greenwire<http://www.eenews.net/greenwire/stories/1060029406>, Dec. 11).

Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw yesterday stressed that the Obama administration hadn’t signed off on any version of the bill yet, particularly not the latest House version.

“There has been no final approval of any drought bill by the Administration and a number of elements in the package proposed by the House members remain problematic,” she said in a statement. “Any final position will be on the bill in its entirety and is contingent upon a number of factors, including the absence of objectionable provisions regarding the application of the ESA.”


Tags: , ,