Monday, June 10, 2013

Water Resources Lobbying Focuses On U.S. House

Lobbying over details of the Senate passed Water Resources Development Act five year reauthorization has focused on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, following Senate passage of the measure by a vote of 83-14. The Senate's measure created a five year, $4.5 billion federal share for drinking water, waste water and flood control construction projects, including top priority Army Corps of Engineers slated for floor protection along the American River in California; the Red River Valley between Fargo, N.D. and Moorehead, Minn.; along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi; together with navigation improvements for the Sabine-Neches Waterway across Texas and Louisiana.

The Senate's bill, co-authoried by California's Barbara Boxer and Louisiana's David Vitter, avoids naming the specific projects to receive federal money, leaving those decisions to the executive branch. Chairman Shuster says he is concerned that Congress, rather than the White House, should set the spending priorities project by project, a Congressional prerogative commonly referred to as "earmarking." while the Senate has increased federal water project construction spending to eventually match the export tax revenue coming in to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by 2019, construction and water transportation lobbyists hope to accelerate the pace of increases in the House version. 

The real lobbying battle in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, however, pits construction industry interests favoring wholesale exclusion of certain categories of projects from environmental approvals under the National Environmental Policy Act against environmental groups who believe navigation and construction interests want to gut NEPA reviews of waterway projects. The outcome of that fight, more than the battle over whether or not to earmark specific projects, will likely determine the five year pace of spending on waterway improvement projects.
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