House sends bipartisan water bill to the Senate

The legislation was developed in concert by Republicans and Democrats, many of whom praised the bill as one that would help create jobs for the struggling U.S. economy.

"It's about economic growth, it's about trade, it's about jobs," said House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). "Not just the jobs that will be created when we're dredging ports and rebuilding locks and dams, but the jobs that will help our manufacturers… when they send [products] into the world markets."

Ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) agreed that the will would help fund job-creating infrastructure projects, and added that new water project authorization is needed to cope with flooding that has happened since the last WRRDA bill was passed in 2007.

"It has been six long years since we have passed Corps of Engineers water resources legislation," he said. "And while Congress has had its back turned on our water infrastructure, Mother Nature has not been complacent.

"Since passage of the last WRDA in 2007 the Nation has been challenged with floods, hurricanes, droughts. Our aging locks, dams, and ports have too often been neglected."

While Democrats largely praised the bill, several noted that they oppose language aimed at streamlining the approval process and environmental reviews for projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

"I hope that as the House and Senate develop a final bill, the conferees look closely at the environmental review provisions to make certain that we can strike an appropriate balance between expediting projects while understanding their impact on the environment," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Many Democrats argued that while they favor streamlining the approval process, environmental reviews are not the reason why billions of dollars worth of projects have been delayed, in some cases for several decades.

"The problem is not NEPA," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). "The problem is that this Congress has failed to appropriate enough money to keep up with the projects we authorize."

DeFazio proposed an amendment to delay the streamlined environmental review process until the backlog of projects falls from its current level of about $60 billion to less than $20 billion. But the House rejected that language when it was offered as an amendment.

The bipartisan bill would de-authorize $12 billion worth of projects from the backlog, which many members defended as a fiscally responsible move. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) proposed an amendment that would have de-authorized another $23 billion worth of projects, but the House voted that proposal down in a voice vote.

The bipartisan nature of the legislation was made clear earlier in the day, when the White House said it supports the bill. The White House said it had some issues with the legislation, including the authorization of some projects it does not support, and the risk of undermining environmental reviews, but said it hopes to work with Congress to improve these provisions.

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