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July 16, 2020 12:00 PM, EDT

House Transportation Panel Advances Water Infrastructure Bill

Flooded road bridge in MichiganA collapsed road bridge in Michigan. The bill promotes weather resiliency. (Emily Elconin/Bloomberg)

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Legislation that would advance construction of certain freight projects and promote resilience across myriad water systems was easily approved July 15 by the transportation committee at the U.S. House of Representatives.

The measure moved to the floor of the chamber, where lawmakers are expected to consider it as early as this month.

The Water Resources Development Act would authorize construction projects at 34 Army Corps of Engineers sites, as well as release $10 billion in unspent funding that is part of a federal harbor maintenance account.

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Additionally, the legislation would enhance resources for the construction of inland waterways, prioritizing projects identified by users. It also would direct the secretary of transportation to equitably allocate harbor expenditures for operations and maintenance. And it would authorize harbor-related funding for maintenance needs.

Additionally, the legislation would aim to promote severe-weather resilience throughout harbor projects and ports. According to a summary provided by the committee, the legislation would require the Corps to “update existing planning guidance related to sea-level rise based on the best available, peer-reviewed science, in coordination with federal and state agencies.”

For many Democrats, addressing concerns due to climate change has been a legislative priority during this session of Congress.

“This bill recognizes the important role of resiliency in helping our communities meet the current and future challenges of changing hydrologic conditions and repetitive and more frequent flooding events,” said committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). “I am glad to include provisions in this bill that will ensure taxpayer dollars are spent on infrastructure that will be resilient and will contribute to the resiliency of communities across the country. Our economy, our safety and our environment will benefit from the passage of WRDA 2020.”

The panel embraced bipartisanship when it came to water policy. That had not been the case during recent legislative hearings related to surface transportation and oversight of the Trump administration.

“Time after time, communities in north Missouri have been inundated by flood waters only to rebuild back to the same standards — and then have to do it all over again because nothing changes,” added committee ranking Republican, Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri. “We’ve got to reduce the bureaucracy, so we can get flood control structures completed in a much faster manner. Ultimately, WRDA 2020 will help keep America competitive, provide a foundation for job growth, foster a more robust economy and protect our communities for years to come.”

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Across the Capitol, a Senate committee this year advanced legislation that would authorize $17 billion for the deepening of ports, as well as matters pertaining to inland waterways and floodwaters. The measure would authorize studies and certain Corps reports, and it would adjust the cost-share for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for construction costs.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) indicated, “Our committee has taken a significant step to improve our dams, ports, flood-prevention infrastructure, reservoirs and drinking water systems.”

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