WASHINGTON, April 28, 2016 - A $9.3 billion bill authorizing improvements to the nation’s navigation and drinking water infrastructure easily cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today.

In what might have been a speed record for a bill markup (about 15 minutes), the committee voted 19-1 to approve the 2016 Water Resources Development Act, which includes $4.5 billion for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water resources projects and $4.852 billion for drinking water and clean water infrastructure. The 2014 WRDA bill did not authorize any drinking water/clean water funding.

“I applaud our committee in taking this significant step forward to improve our nation’s water infrastructure,” EPW Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., said. “This bill is not only fully paid for, it prioritizes projects to improve ports and waterways for increased global competitive advantage and supports needed flood control projects that protect millions of people and billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure.”

The bill includes provisions to allow the Corps to accept financial assistance from local communities seeking to improve navigation and flood control. It also makes permanent a program included in the 2014 WRDA bill – the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act – to provide low interest rate financing for large dollar-value projects. (More on the bill from the EPW committee is here.)

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Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., was the lone dissenter because, she said, the bill “does not address much-needed regulatory relief for on-farm fuel storage.” A Fischer-sponsored provision in the 2014 WRDA temporarily exempted farmers with between 2,500-6,000 gallons of aboveground oil storage capacity from the SPCC rules so long as they had a clean spill history, but also required EPA to study the issue.

The intent of that language “was to place boundaries on EPA and ensure the agency is not overregulating on-farm fuel storage at capacities that do not pose a significant risk or harm to water quality,” she said. “If EPA cannot find a significant risk, then the regulation is unwarranted.”

But the study, which was released in June, determined that the original regulation’s 1,320-gallon threshold was appropriate, while recognizing that Fischer’s amendment to the 2014 WRDA had set the regulatory threshold at 2,500 gallons.

“Based on evidence that small discharges cause significant harm and lack of evidence that farms are inherently safer than other types of facilities, this study shows that its existing threshold aggregate aboveground oil storage capacity of 1,320 gallons is appropriate for all facilities in order to provide an adequate level of environmental protection of the nation‘s waters,” the study said.

Fischer said she would continue to push for relief for farmers as the bill moves to the Senate floor in May or June. Inhofe pledged to work with her.

“Let me assure you, I’m just as concerned about this as you are,” Inhofe told her at the markup.

After the bill was introduced Tuesday, the Waterways Council reacted positively, noting that the bill does not have lockage fees/tolls to finance public-private partnerships.

Committee staff said Inhofe has been communicating regularly with his House counterpart, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. They said the House would come up with its own bill; if it passes, the two chambers will have to iron out differences in a conference committee.

The bill approved by the committee authorizes work on the following navigation projects (click the links for more information):


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