House Approves $12 Billion-Plus Water Bill
Washington PA Observer Reporter
20 May 2014
WASHINGTON – The House passed the closest thing so far this year
to an infrastructure bill – a $12 billion-plus bipartisan measure
authorizing 34 water projects, ranging from flood protection in
California and North Dakota to deepening the Port of Savannah and
widening a Texas-Louisiana waterway that services the oil
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed Tuesday on a
412-4 vote. Lawmakers shook off criticism from conservative and
watchdog groups like Heritage Action and Taxpayers for Common
Sense that argued the bill should have done more to rein in
wasteful government spending.
The Senate could vote on the bill before the end of the week,
sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature. The
legislation is a bipartisan compromise of companion bills passed
separately by the House and Senate last year. After months of
negotiations, a final deal on it was reached last week.
Supporters, including business interests like the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce hailed it an economy-boosting measure that could deliver
thousands of new jobs.
“It’s going to keep America competitive,” said Rep. Bill Shuster,
chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Shuster, R-Pa., and other lawmakers also argued the bill was more
fiscally responsible than past water projects bills. On the House
floor, he noted the bill puts an end to $18 billion in dormant
water projects passed before 2007.
That was not enough for some critics. A Taxpayers for Common Sense
analysis released this week called the bill “a missed opportunity
to reform management of our nation’s infrastructure in a fiscally
With an estimated cost of $12.3 billion, the measure is a slimmer
version of past water project bills. The last one in 2010, for
example, had a price tag of $23.3 billion.
The new bill addresses pent-up demands by lawmakers, including
addressing flooding concerns in places like Fargo, North Dakota
and the Natomas Basin in the Sacramento, California area.
The bill authorizes spending up to $800 million for a flood
diversion project that would protect the Red River Valley region
of North Dakota and Minnesota, which includes Fargo. The region
has suffered major flooding four of the past five years.
In California, the bill allows as much as $760 million in federal
spending for a project that would strengthen levees of the Natomas
Basin in the Sacramento area, which could protect more than
There are also big investments in projects that improve
infrastructure for commerce.
The bill sanctions more than $748 million in federal funds for
dredging and widening of the Sabine-Neches Waterway, which is
billed as “America’s Energy Gateway” because the roughly 80-mile
waterway services oil and natural gas refineries in Texas and
Louisiana. It also includes approval of up to $492 million for
expanding and deepening the Port of Savannah, one of the country’s
fastest growing ports. Actual funding of all the projects will
require separate bills.
Congress is expected to consider another key infrastructure bill
before the end of the year. A Senate panel last week approved a
bill to keep federal highway programs going for the next six
years, but it remains uncertain whether Congress will complete its
work in time to stop a disruption in transportation aid to states
Besides authorizing specific water projects, Tuesday’s bill makes
changes to how future projects are to seek funding. It sets
specific time and cost limits for studies on potential projects,
eliminates duplicative Army Corps of Engineers reviews and speeds
up environmental review process for projects.
The bill also increases spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust
Fund to pay for improvements to ports and creates a five-year
pilot program to provide loans and loan guarantees for various