WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2016 - The Senate voted 95-3 today to approve a bill that would finance waterway improvement projects in 30 states and improve drinking water delivery systems. The bill also includes a provision exempting some farmers with aboveground fuel storage tanks from EPA requirements to prepare spill control plans.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., inserted the storage-tank provision in the 500-plus-page bill in order to give farmers some relief from EPA’s Spill, Prevention, Control and Countermeasure requirements. Farms with fuel storage tanks with an individual capacity of 1,000 gallons or less, or an aggregate capacity not exceeding 2,000 gallons would be exempt from the SPCC rules. Containers holding animal feed ingredients would also be exempt.
Speaking on the floor about the provision, Fischer said, “Most agricultural producers live miles away from the nearest refueling station; therefore, producers rely upon on-farm fuel storage to supply the fuel they need at the time they need it. This amendment will ensure that producers can maintain that on-farm fuel storage (and) bring some reasonable, measured exemptions to the SPCC rule for small- and medium-sized farms and for livestock producers.”
Overall, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 would authorize more than $12 billion for 30 Army Corps of Engineers projects in nearly 20 states. One major one is the Central Everglades Planning Project, which is designed to provide more water storage, treatment and conveyance of water south of Lake Okeechobee, which has suffered this year from a widely publicized outbreak of blue-green algae.
The authorized projects “will help grow our economy, protect communities from flooding, increase our global competitiveness, and restore our natural treasures,” Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a joint statement. Inhofe chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Boxer is the panel’s ranking Democrat.
“This bill also provides critical support and reforms to help small and disadvantaged communities improve access to clean and safe drinking water and to repair aging infrastructure that contributes to lead contamination nationwide,” they said, adding that a “critical component” of the bill is a provision addressing contamination in the water in Flint, Michigan.
The largest single project authorized in the bill is one involving replacing aging locks and dams on the Upper Ohio River at a cost of $2.6 billion. The Corps of Engineers signed off on a study backing the project earlier this week.
In response to the crisis in Flint, the bill also authorizes $300 million over five years for a nationwide grant program to replace lead service lines for drinking water systems.
Inhofe touted the bill’s establishment of a new cost-sharing program allowing local sponsors of Corps projects to provide funding.
The local sponsors “are willing to spend their own money and yet it is not legal for them to do. We correct that,” he said on the Senate floor.
Sponsors can “either give money to the Corps to carry out the maintenance or get in and start maintaining using their own dollars,” Inhofe said. “That is something you would think they could do now, but they can't. That is in this bill. That was the major thing the ports were pushing for in this bill.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also applauded the Senate’s approval of the legislation, noting that it contains “critical drought relief provisions” that will improve coordination between the Corps of Engineers and state and local agencies to implement water supply measures at reservoirs.
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