By an overwhelming margin, the House has passed water resources legislation that would authorize about $2.5 billion in federal funds to construct nine new Army Corps of Engineers flood protection, environmental restoration and other projects.
The measure, the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, was approved late on June 6 on a 408-2 vote.
The focus now turns to the Senate, where the Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously cleared a broader water resources measure on May 22.The next step would be a floor vote in that chamber. The timing is unclear.
The House bill's main architect, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), along with other leaders of the panel, consciously kept their bill rigorously focused on Corps projects and policies. They figured that widening its scope to Clean Water Act issues threatened to slow its path to passage.
The Senate committee's version is nearly identical to the House's in its Corps project lineup. But it also includes provisions for Environmental Protection Agency water programs, such as a $450-million, two-year authorization for sewer overflow control grants.
Industry officials have said odds are good for enacting a WRDA this year, though maybe in a lame-duck session after the Nov. 6 elections.
The funding authorization total is expected to rise in coming months as the Corps completes Chief of Engineers' reports recommending more projects.
Shuster, who will retire from the House after this year, has set WRDA as a priority. He said in a statement after the vote, "I look forward to working with the Senate to send a final WRDA to the president that builds our water infrastructure, grows our economy and creates jobs."
The House committee's top Democrat, Peter DeFazio (Ore.), called the WRDA passage "a win for our nation's coastal communities and those located on inland waterways."
But DeFazio also said he was "extremely disappointed" about the deletion of a bipartisan provision that would have made sure Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund revenue would go for harbor dredging work.