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House passes bill to speed permitting for dams, reservoirs

House passes bill to speed permitting for dams, reservoirs
© Greg Nash

The House passed a bill on Thursday that supporters say will speed up permitting decisions for water-storage projects such as dams and reservoirs in drought-stricken areas of the United States.

GOP supporters of the bill say it's a necessary step toward alleviating droughts and overhauling the federal permitting process. 

But most Democrats opposed the legislation, calling it a “sham infrastructure bill” that takes aim at federal environmental rules.  

The legislation, from Rep. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockGOP lawmaker defends Newsom for breaking 'idiotic' COVID-19 rules GOP's McClintock fends off challenger in California Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees MORE (R-Calif.), passed on a 233-180 vote. 

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“Droughts are nature’s fault, they happen, but water shortages are our fault,” McClintock said.

“We will not solve our shortages until we build more reservoirs, and we cannot build more reservoirs until we overhaul the laws that have made their construction endlessly time-consuming and ultimately cost-prohibitive.”

The bill would filter all permit requests for new dams and reservoirs through the Bureau of Reclamation, which would coordinate environmental permitting decisions from other agencies and allow some regulators to drop out of the process.

Supporters consider the bill a “one-stop shop” for facilities that right now are subject to lengthy permitting deliberations.

Half a dozen Republicans from the West co-sponsored the bill, saying it’s an important measure for areas at risk of droughts like the one that crippled California for years. 

“The fact is that we aren’t not doing enough to store the water that we do get for the times when we don’t get it,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' Sunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight MORE (R-Calif.) said Thursday, hitting what he called a “ridiculous permitting process that forces us to wait and wait and wait when we should be acting.”

But Democrats said the bill undermines federal environmental regulations, and they contended Republicans should focus on funding new infrastructure projects rather than deregulation alone. 

“In terms of water infrastructure, our nation is still not making necessary investments,” Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanBickering Democrats return with divisions Lobbying world OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes MORE (D-Calif.) said. “We’ve barely scratched the surface on building modern water infrastructure projects.”

McClintock’s bill is similar to a section of legislation that the House passed in 2015, though that bill never advanced in the Senate.