On May 14 the Senate was moving toward approving a bill to authorize new Corps of Engineers civil-works projects, revamp Corps policies and provide new water-infrastructure funding sources.
When the pending Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee in March, the Congressional Budget Office estimated its authorizations at $7.7 billion over five years, including $4.5 billion for 27 Corps projects. To comply with the congressional earmark moratorium, the bill doesn't name the projects but says they are ones for which the Army chief of engineers has completed reports. If passed, all of the bill's funding would be subject to annual appropriations.
Parts of the committee bill drew criticism from the White House and environmental organizations. Those groups said language to speed project reviews also would short-change environmental protection. The bill's main authors— committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the panel's top Republican, David Vitter (La.)—made changes. But Melissa Samet, National Wildlife Federation senior water-resources counsel, says, "They are absolutely not enough to address our concerns with the provision." NWF backs amendments to that section.
The bill would hike funding for dredging projects by directing Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund spending to rise gradually over six years, to $1.5 billion, which would about equal the fund's income from import taxes. John Doyle, special counsel for law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, "Right now … only roughly half of what's being collected is being spent." Under the earlier version of the bill, spending equaled trust-fund income in the measure's first year.
The bill also would create a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program to provide loans for Corps projects and wastewater-treatment and drinking-water facilities. The measure would set up a national levee safety program and reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program for five years.