Senates Water Bill Sidesteps Streamlining Issue for Now
The America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 revealed by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on May 8 seeks to tackle a number of water-related infrastructure issues. But one thing it does not do is deal with streamlining the permitting process for dam, levee, water system, and port projects – a top-of-mind issue for the Trump administration and one supported by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Ranking member Tom Carper, D-Del., told reporters that avoiding the streamlining subject would help "sidestep" partisan fights.
"We focus on the 80 percent where we have general agreement and we're going to get something done," Carper said.
A Democratic EPW aide told Politico that streamlining and permitting provisions are what typically "spark partisan battles over infrastructure."
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is currently working on its own Water Resources legislation, which is expected to take a "different approach" from the EPW's bill. Eventually, the two bills will need to be merged into one "consensus bill" in order to secure passage by both chambers of Congress.
The EPW's water bill also follows legislation proposed by the House Appropriations Committee for a $44.7 billion budget for energy and water resources in fiscal 2019.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the EPW committee, said Senate's bill tackles several key issues, several of which affect state departments of transportation directly:
There is more funding allocated for dredging "major" coastal and inland ports to "boost economic competitiveness."
The bill also focuses on maintaining the navigability of inland waterways. "Goods and raw materials need to move from the heartland to the coasts for export [and] this bill is designed to maintain these vital arteries of commerce," he stressed.
It also creates a "new framework" to allow for more Army Corps projects to be budgeted at the regional and local level, with local stakeholder input, as opposed to just at the national level. "This means more projects are likely to be built in small, rural, and inland states," he noted.
"[Our] committee has jurisdiction over much of our nation's water infrastructure, including locks and dams, inland waterways, irrigation and water systems, and ports – infrastructure systems that are critical to keeping America prosperous and safe from dangerous floods and contaminated water sources," Barrasso pointed out.
"This bipartisan legislation is the result of significant work and negotiations among the members of our committee," he said.
"Those discussions are ongoing and we plan to add a bipartisan manager's amendment to the bill when we mark it up later this month to address a number of outstanding issues."
"Beyond what we think of as traditional infrastructure of roads, highways and bridges, our water infrastructure – waterways, ports, dams, levees, drinking and wastewater systems and natural infrastructure along our coasts – touches every single sector of our economy and nearly every American household," added Carper.
"This bipartisan bill reflects the vital importance water infrastructure plays in every community across the country," he said. "I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this legislation through Congress and begin making these long overdue investments in our nation's water infrastructure and our economy."