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 McClintockJudiciary Republican asks impeachment witnesses if they voted for Trump Live coverage: Witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses This week: Impeachment inquiry moves to Judiciary Committee 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 McCarthyHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea GOP leader says he had 'a hard time' believing Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi says House will move forward with impeachment 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 HuffmanPelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention Harris introduces bill to prevent California wildfires Overnight Energy: Fight between EPA watchdog, agency lawyers heats up | Top EPA official under investigation over document destruction | DOJ issues subpoenas to automakers in California emissions pact 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.