House passes $5 billion water projects bill

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2016 - The House approved a $5 billion water infrastructure bill Wednesday, setting the stage for negotiations with the Senate on a compromise version that can be passed after the election. 

A $10.6 billion Water Resources Development Act that the Senate passed earlier this month includes authorization for drinking water projects that are not included in the House legislation, which passed 399-25. 

Both bills would return Congress to a two-year schedule for authorizing waterway and port projects.

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"To maintain our competitive advantage against other countries, we must relentlessly make the case for continued investment in our water resources infrastructure," said Bobby Frederick, director of legislative affairs and public policy for the National Grain and Feed Association. 

Neither bill would authorize the use of lockage fees for inland waterway projects, an idea that has been pushed by the Obama administration. Shippers oppose the fees. The Senate measure also includes a provision exempting some farmers with above ground fuel storage tanks from EPA requirements to prepare spill control plans.

The chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., issued a joint statement saying that the “strong, bipartisan” House vote “is a clear sign that we can reconcile the House and Senate bills swiftly and smoothly.”

Michael Toohey, president and CEO of the Waterways Council, said the final legislation will  “create and sustain American jobs, increase exports, keep our nation competitive in world markets, and enhance the reliability of this essential waterways transportation mode,” he continued.  

Both bills include three of his group's priorities by authorizing, with Army Corps of Engineers studies, the Calcasieu lock modifications in Louisiana, deepening of the Brownsville, Texas, ship channel  and the Upper Ohio Study that would allow the Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery lock project near Pittsburgh to advance.

Both bills also include funding to address drinking water problems in Flint, Mich. 

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A decision by House GOP leaders to allow a vote on adding $170 million in Flint aid to the water projects bill prompted Senate Democrats to stop blocking a continuing resolution necessary to keep the government running after the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. 

Democrats dropped their demands for including the Flint aid in the stopgap spending bill based on assurances that it would be attached to the water legislation. The Senate bill includes $220 million in Flint assistance. 

The Senate approved the continuing resolution, 72-26, Wednesday afternoon, and the House passed it, 342-85, Wednesday night. Both chambers will be out of session until after the election. 


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