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Water Infrastructure Bill Heads to the President's Desk
12/17/2016 Legislation Seth L
keywords: Climate Congress Environment Water Resources

A $12 billion water infrastructure bill, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN), (S. 612), was passed in the Senate by a 78-21 vote and heads to the president's desk for signing after contentious battles regarding last-minute policy riders. It includes within it the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which was passed by both houses of Congress earlier in the year.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), authorizes 30 mostly water-related infrastructure projects around the country. Some of those projects include addressing flood risk management, deepening nationally significant ports and helping disadvantaged communities provide residents with safe drinking water. Specifically, regarding the last measure, there's authorization to spend $170 million to help solve drinking water issues in Flint, Michigan where a crisis involving antiquated water infrastructure has created unsafe water supplies in the last several years. The bill also gives authorization to the EPA to approve various state permitting programs involving coal ash.

As it turned out, sponsoring Senator Boxer ended up filibustering the bill due to drought relief language that was slipped into it by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The drought relief had been sought by a number of California lawmakers for some time.

"America is not some third-world country. We are a wealthy nation, and we will not let any American go without water,” Rep. McCarthy declared in a House speech. “In my state of California, we are enduring the worst drought in over a century.”

But Boxer opposed this language due to harm it might do to fisheries and the federal process for approving dams. Boxer also said the language could subvert the Endangered Species Act. Boxer is a ranking member of the Environmental and Public Works Committee.

"What right does anybody have to do that, in the middle of the night before Christmas, days before [government funding] expires?” Boxer asked. “Kevin McCarthy ... has launched another water wars battle. It’s ugly, and it’s wrong.”

Also contained in the bill was language to eliminate a provision in the WRDA instructing the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama to work together to solve a decades-old water dispute. The provision had specified that Congress would step in if those states could not come to an agreement. Several senators objected to this language, including Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

Some Democrats also objected to House Republicans' removing a "Buy American" provision from the bill, which would have required drinking water projects to utilize exclusively American steel and iron components.

It should be noted that funding for the provisions of the bill must still be appropriated by Congress. This will likely be debated in the next Congressional session in 2017.

Source: Seth L

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