A water resources bill under consideration in the Senate appears to reject the White House’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, but top Republicans say parts of the Trump proposal eventually may make it into the legislation later this month.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee plans to mark up SB 2800, later this month, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee chairman, told reporters after a May 9 hearing on the bill. And Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the panel’s second-ranking Republican, said senators may modify the bill then to insert provisions from the infrastructure plan, which has stalled on Capitol Hill since the White House unveiled it in February.
As of now, however, the bipartisan bill shies away from the more contentious items in the Trump plan—specifically its calls to speed up the permitting process for big federal infrastructure projects by stripping some environmental review requirements.
Inhofe told reporters the committee already has accomplished much on this issue but that he may use the water resources bill as a vehicle to push further.
“If there’s something more that can be done that hasn’t been done, I’ll make sure we have an amendment,” he said.
Inhofe’s plans to amend the bill with environmental permitting measures could jeopardize its bipartisan support.
Democrats have strongly opposed legislation in the past that sought to remove federal agencies’ obligations to study the ecological impacts of their decisions.
The White House did not immediately respond to Bloomberg Environment’s request for comment.
Senators Want to Honor Tradition
Inhofe and Barrasso said they were committed to following Congress’ traditional biennial timeline for passing a water resources bill, which gives the Army Corps of Engineers the go-ahead to move forward on dozens of flood control and reservoir projects across the country. These bills also typically make significant policy changes for the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water and wastewater programs.
This year’s bill, unveiled May 8, received bipartisan praise at the hearing before the committee, signaling that its chances of advancing through the Senate are good.
“We don’t want to spike the football too early, but this is a day to celebrate,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the committee.
The House has not released its version of a water resources bill. But Barrasso said he spoke recently with Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, about coordinating the two chambers’ actions on this legislation.
The bill would allow EPA to continue operating its new subsidized infrastructure loan program, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, through the 2021 fiscal year. It also would allow water utilities to use portions of EPA grants to clean up the lakes and rivers that serve as the sources of their drinking water, something currently outside the scope of EPA’s main water grant program.
For the Army Corps, the legislation would require the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to re-examine the way it conducts cost-benefit analysis for the Corps’ projects. The bill also would change Army Corps rules on outside parties sharing in the cost of a project.
Congress failed to pass a water resources bill for decades but then enacted a version in 2014 and again in 2016.