The House has approved a $15-billion measure that would authorize funds for dozens of Army Corps of Engineers water projects, but the White House opposes the bill, contending it is too costly.

USACE
Bill would expand seven locks on the Mississippi, including one at Clarksville, Mo.

The Water Resources Development Act, which the House passed in the evening of April 19 by a 394-25 vote, would provide funding for several major Corps construction programs. Among them is a $3.4-billion package for the upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway, including $1.8 billion for seven new locks and $1.6 billion for ecosystem restoration.

Louisiana would receive about $2.4 billion, including more than $1 billion for coastal restoration. Florida is another major beneficiary, with about $2.4 billion worth of projects, including about $950 million for elements of the Everglades restoration program.

The legislation also requires more outside reviews of Corps projects, something environmental groups and other critics have sought for several years. The House bill would mandate “an independent panel of experts” to study any project whose cost exceeds $50 million.

But the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a statement April 18 saying it “strongly opposes” the House bill. OMB says the bill would cost “at least $15 billion and possibly substantially more.” It contends, “In a time of much-needed fiscal restraint, the additional spending in this bill is unacceptable,” OMB says.

Perhaps equally important is what the OMB statement doesn’t say. Unlike such position statements on other congressional bills, the one for the House WRDA stops short of recommending a presidential veto.

Supporters of the WRDA bill defend its price tag, saying it reflects pent-up demand for projects since the last such bill was signed into law, in December 2000.

In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee cleared its new WRDA on March 29, and committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) says it could come to the floor in early May. The Senate panel’s version is similar to the House’s, but has more stringent project-review requirements and other “Corps reform” provisions that environmental groups prefer.

Congress came close to passing a WRDA last year, with both houses approving differing versions. But House and Senate negotiators failed to resolve those differences before the session ended. Lawmakers say the 2007 versions are similar to the ones approved in the last Congress.