Key Republicans say they have reached a deal on a compromise water resources bill—a major piece of infrastructure legislation—but Democrats didn’t join in the Dec. 5 announcement and objected to provisions in the package.
The centerpiece of the new measure, dubbed the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation, or WINN, is the $10.3 billion in federal funds it authorizes for 30 new Army Corps of Engineers flood control, harbor dredging, environmental restoration and other projects.
In addition, the package authorizes $150 million for drinking-water systems, of which $100 million would go for upgrades to aging or contaminated lines in cities like Flint, Mich. Authorizations are subject to annual appropriations.
It also includes “sense of Congress” language calling for $20 million to support federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans. Those loans could help finance drinking-water or other water-related projects.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.); House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.); House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.); and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said in a joint statement that the compromise legislation “will strengthen the nation’s transportation and water infrastructure, and our economic competiveness.”
But the Senate environment committee’s top Democrat, Barbara Boxer (Calif.), slammed a provision in the package that deals with drought in her state. Boxer said the language amounts to a “poison pill” that would mean “the loss of thousands of fishery jobs,” would “roll back the Endangered Species Act” and “take away power from Congress to approve new dams all over the country.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) blasted the measure’s authors for deleting language that would permanently require U.S.-produced iron and steel to be used on projects supported by the drinking water state revolving funds (SRFs). The WIIN legislation includes a Buy America requirement for the SRFs, but only for 2017. Brown said the one-year provision is already in effect and falls far short of what is needed.
Brown said in a statement, “This was the first major test of whether Washington establishment Republicans would live up to President-elect Trump’s promises to put American products and American workers first—they failed, and American iron and steel workers will pay the price.”
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, said via email, “We are encouraged to see House and Senate leaders have worked out a way to move forward with vital water resources infrastructure legislation.”
But Turmail added, "We had hoped the measure would have been more bipartisan than this current version, but we are optimistic that Congress can work out a bipartisan solution moving forward."
The American Association of Port Authorities is “pleased with the [water resources] bill and urge Congress to pass it before departing,” a spokesman said via email. The compromise bill authorizes several dredging projects and also increases the federal funding share to 75% for deepening harbors to 50 ft. The 75% share now applies to dredging to 45 ft. The current federal contribution from 45 to 50 ft is 50%.
The flap over the water resources bill comes just days before Congress was hoping to adjourn. But Daisy Letendre, a spokesperson for Inhofe, said via email on Dec. 6 that the senator "is confident that...following House action on WIIN, the Senate will take up and pass the bill."
Story updated on Dec. 6 with comment from spokesperson from Senator Inhofe.