Senate Debating Water Resources Bill

September 7, 2016

The U.S. Senate at 5:07 p.m. today officially brought up the Water Resources Development Act (S. 2848)

Yesterday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made a formal motion to proceed to consider S. 2848, and that motion is currently the pending business of the Senate. However, McConnell did not file cloture on the motion, which would have forced a roll call vote on Thursday morning on the cloture motion, with a 60-vote threshold.

Instead, at 10:20 a.m. this morning, McConnell had the Republican Cloakroom send out a “hotline” announcement to all Senate offices, saying that “The Majority Leader has made a motion to proceed to S. 2848, the WRDA bill and absent a Democrat filibuster intends to adopt the motion to proceed by voice vote later this afternoon. If your Senator would like to be consulted on this motion please phone the Cloakroom.” That vote took place at 5:07 p.m.

McConnell then offered a bipartisan substitute for the bill from the chairman and ranking minority member of the Environment and Public Works Committee (SA #4979).

Yesterday, Senate Environment and Public Works chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) took to the Senate floor to explain the bill. He started by saying that “We have the WRDA bill, the Water Resources Development Act. It is coming up. If we get on that, it is going to benefit everyone. I worry about it be- cause we get to something that is good for everyone—Zika is a good example— and then all of a sudden opposition comes up, and you don’t know what the source of that opposition is, but it is there.”

Inhofe’s speech (on pages S5232-5233 here) outlined five areas of the bill:

  1. Army Corps of Engineers construction projects receiving formal authorization after a successful “Chief’s Report” (and there are 29 such projects in the bill).
  2. Dam and levee safety projects through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  3. Drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects primarily funded through the Environmental Protection Agency.
  4. Regional restoration programs.
  5. Coal ash disposal.

Of the five areas of the bill outlined by Inhofe, only the first is within the scope of the traditional WRDA bill. (Ed. Note: It helps to think of the WRDA bill by the name it had from the 1880s through the 1980s – the rivers and harbors bill, which used the Corps of Engineers to maintain the navigability of same.)

Inhofe’s Democratic counterpart, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), went to the floor just before adjournment and said:

We are talking about making navigation better. We are talking about flood control. We are talking about coastal storm damage reduction; environmental restoration; relief for Flint, MI; improved notification when high levels of lead are found in drinking water anywhere in the country; restoring critical ecosystems; investing in innovative water technologies such as desalination and water recycling. We are talking about drought assistance. We are talking about improving ports, repairing dams, and allowing States to issue permits for coal ash. This is a critical bill. It is super-bipartisan.

I wish to say that working with Senator Inhofe continues to be a joy for me when it comes to infrastructure. On the environment, we are sort of from different planets, but when it comes to infrastructure, we are as one.

The EPW staff also sent all Senators the text and explanation of a revised version of the bill that will be offered in the event that the Senate adopts the motion to proceed to the bill.

Here are links to:

The highlight of the changes made in the substitute appears to be the addition of five new project authorizations, one of which is a $3.1 billion megaproject on the Louisiana coast with a projected federal share of $2.0 billion. (There is a math error in the Rio de Flag project in section 6002 but Inhofe amendment #4980 will correct that, we think.)


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