Senate debate on Water Resources Development Act creeps along
By Derrick Cain
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2013 - The Senate continued debate slowly Wednesday on the Water Resources Development Act (S. 601) after turning away an amendment dealing with gun rights and accepting amendments dealing with ocean upkeep and Asian carp prevention.
The bill, approved unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, would authorize funding to refurbish the nation's locks and dams, provide harbor and river maintenance, assist with flood protection, and restore key environmental areas.
Several senators said they expect the debate to drag into next week.
On the second day of debate Wednesday, the Senate rejected an amendment, with a 56-43 vote, that would have allowed gun owners to carry firearms into recreational areas controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, such as campgrounds, dams, and river areas. The amendment, offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., required 60 votes for passage.
That amendment and another one from Coburn dealing with an ammunition study, which he withdrew, received the ire of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“We've made progress on this bill the last couple of days,” Reid said. “It's an important bill for every state in the union and I hope it's not bogged down with a lot of non-relevant, non-germane amendments. If people want to offer them, have at it. I just don't think it's the right thing to do on this bill.”
Reid said Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was still waiting for a final list of amendments that senators plan to offer on the bill.
“If you have to offered amendments, go ahead and offer them but let's try to get this legislation completed,” Reid said. “Monday is a no-vote today. We should do everything on [Thursday] to at least come up with a finite list of amendments. We're not going to spend all week on this bill next week, that's for sure.”
In other action, the Senate approved an amendment, with a 67-32 vote, that would authorize a national endowment for the oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., seeks to address growing challenges facing the world's oceans and coasts from sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and increasing temperatures.
“The strength of our national economy is tied to the health of our oceans and coasts, and both are imperiled by warming waters, bigger storms, and acidifying seas,” Whitehouse said. “This endowment, when funded, will help preserve and restore the great bounty our oceans and coasts provide - from fishing and tourism, to research and recreation.”
The amendment did not set a funding level for the endowment, which would be administered by the commerce secretary and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Two grant programs would be established: one nationally competitive program and one formula-based program for coastal states.
In addition, the Senate approved, with a 95-0 vote, an amendment, offered by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that aims to prevent an expected large increase of Asian carp in the Ohio River basin.
Brown said the amendment would enable the federal government to have a more effective partnership with state and local entities that are working to slow the spread of Asian carp.
“Asian carp pose a threat to ecosystems in the Great Lakes and the Ohio River basin,” Brown said. “It is imperative that we provide resources to address the threat that Asian carp pose to all Ohio waterways.”
The amendment would put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of coordinating a new federal multi-agency effort including the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and Army Corps of Engineers.
The underlying bill aims, among other things, to promote investment in the nation's critical water resources infrastructure, accelerate project delivery, and reform the implementation of Corps of Engineers projects. Supporters say the bill would create up to 500,000 new jobs.
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