McCarthy: GOP drought bill better than 'punitive' conservation push

Government regulations and environmental concerns are to blame for the drought in California, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyOcasio-Cortez: 'Embarrassment' that Democratic leaders are delaying Boebert punishment Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill Nunes resignation sets off GOP scramble on Ways and Means MORE (R-Calif.) said in an op-ed on Wednesday, and a Republican bill to help the region takes a better approach. 

McCarthy said California Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) call for a 25 percent reduction in urban water use to weather the state's four-year-old drought is “a punitive, yet inevitable, decision given the years of federal and state water mismanagement.”

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The state’s water regulations are “based on outdated and incomplete science,” McCarthy wrote in a USA Today op-ed, and that efforts from environmentalists to protect fish have caused the state’s water supplies to dwindle. 

McCarthy said state government policies — like a push for high-speed rail — and slow federal approval for water storage projects have hurt California’s ability to build new water infrastructure. 

“Right now, failed policies from state and federal agencies have offered California one option: focus on conservation, measure our expectations for the future, and bring California back in time closer to the smallness of its pre-Golden Age past,” McCarthy wrote. 

The House is scheduled to consider a bill from Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) this week to increase the amount of water the federal government can release from the state’s large Central Valley Project.

Democrats have opposed the bill. In threatening to veto the legislation on Tuesday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said the bill adds “an unnecessary layer of complexity to federal and state cooperation” on water issues and that it preempts existing water policy in California. 

The Obama administration also said the bill would diminish Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for some fish in the region. Under the bill, water flow could only be limited if there are concerns about a fish going extinct or other protection options aren’t feasible.

The bill “was developed with little input from the public, the administration, or key stakeholders affected by the drought,” the Statement of Administration Policy said. “The urgency and seriousness of the California drought requires a balanced and flexible approach that promotes water reliability and ecosystem restoration.”

McCarthy, though, said the bill is consistent with the ESA,  and that it “puts science at the center of regulatory decision-making.” The bill, he wrote in his op-ed, takes “a long-term approach” by increasing water storage projects and focusing on efficiency and recycling programs.

“Meaningful changes to our water management systems and regulatory regime can create a future of increased prosperity, not managed decline, and it's long past time we made such reforms,” he wrote.