Senate advances amendments to water infrastructure bill

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and ranking member David Vitter (R-La.) introduced the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). S. 601 would authorize Army Corp of Engineer projects related to flood and storm risk reduction, coast and inland navigation, and ecosystem restoration.

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The Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that would have stopped the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from expanding what can be identified as waters protected under the Clean Water Act. His amendment failed on a 52-44 vote — there was a 60-vote threshold for final passage.

Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) voted with Republicans for Barrasso's amendment.

Barrasso said his amendment would have protected farmers and ranchers from the EPA, which has said it is considering holding more U.S. water bodies to higher standards under the Clean Water Act. He said the administration’s decision to expand waters to areas of farms would "have a huge impact on farmers and ranchers.”

Boxer urged her colleagues to vote against Barrasso’s amendment, calling it “an anti-environmental rider” to her bill.

“Without protections dangerous pollutants could be put into our water ways,” Boxer said ahead of the vote. “The Barrasso amendment is such an overreach that we will keep the state of U.S. waters in chaos. … Without these protections our drinking water would be at risk.”

An amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was also held to a 60-vote threshold. His amendment would have allowed FEMA to fund stronger restoration standards for culverts and bridges in Vermont that were damaged by natural disasters. He said the goal was to prevent the structures from being damaged again. His amendment failed on a 56-40 vote.

Republican Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), David Vitter (La.) and Susan Collins (Maine) voted with Democrats for the Sanders amendment.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Sanders' amendment was "essentially an earmark" for his state.

The Senate accepted an amendment from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) addressing federal land use in Oklahoma. His amendment passed by voice-vote.

Earlier Tuesday, the Senate approved 20 minor amendments en bloc.

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