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 McClintockHillicon Valley: House advances six bills targeting Big Tech after overnight slugfest | Google to delay cookie phase out until 2023 | Appeals court rules against Baltimore Police Department aerial surveillance program California Democrats clash over tech antitrust fight Tech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup 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 McCarthySunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate After police rip Trump for Jan. 6, McCarthy again blames Pelosi Capitol Police asked to arrest the maskless 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 HuffmanHouse at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Tempers flare as some in GOP ignore new House mask mandate 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.