Senators approve funds for water, flood projects in 83-14 vote

The Senate voted 83-14 for a water infrastructure bill on Wednesday, the first such bill the upper chamber has moved since 2007.

Despite strong support in the Senate, the bill faces an uncertain future in the House, where lawmakers have raised concerns about allowing the Obama administration to pick the water facilities that would be boosted.

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). The bill, S. 601, would authorize Army Corp of Engineer projects related to flood and storm risk reduction, coast and inland navigation, and ecosystem restoration.

{mosads}“This legislation represents jobs, this legislation represents moving products, this legislation represents flood control [and] this legislation represents ports,” Boxer said ahead of the vote.

Some environmentalists argue that project “streamlining” and “acceleration” provisions will result in cutting corners on the environmental review process for projects. In an effort to compromise, Boxer and Vitter agreed to sunset those provisions.

“Projects are being delayed. Environmental projects and flood control projects are being delayed … but what we do in this bill is we sunset the [acceleration] provision in 10 years,” Boxer said. “Bureaucratic agencies have to get the work done.”

While the legislation contains no mention of climate change — Boxer and Vitter said that would rile Republicans — it calls for strengthening coastal infrastructure against extreme storms that scientists say warmer waters and higher sea levels exacerbate.

“We need to invest in water infrastructure,” Boxer said. “When we enter a time where we have even more extreme weather then ever before we need to invest in our infrastructure. … This bill has a lot of reforms that are important … [and] it has to be done.”

That “extreme weather” portion of the bill has attracted attention from insurance, spending and environmental groups. They say bolstering infrastructure will spare people and cities from future storms that could intensify with climate change, while also reducing the federal tab for disaster aid.

Specifically, the bill’s extreme weather section directs the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study “relating to options for reducing risk to human life and property from extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, coastal storms and inland flooding.”

The bill also authorizes $250 million annually for flood restoration and hurricane and storm damage reduction efforts.

Boxer said the bill would support as many as 500,000 jobs. It passed unanimously out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in March. 

Before final passage, the Senate approved several amendments to the bill, some of which would require that Army Corp projects use American made iron and steel, give active duty military service members free annual passes to visit Army Corp land, and would prohibit the Corp from charging a surplus water fee to states that use water from reservoirs along the Missouri River.

Tags Barbara Boxer David Vitter

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