A $35.4-billion bill that is making its way through Congress to fund energy and water programs for fiscal year 2016 includes provisions construction-industry groups support. But some officials are disappointed that the measure, which a House appropriations subcommittee cleared on April 15, doesn't have money for some programs that 2014's Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) authorized.
The energy-water bill, one of the first to emerge in the 2016 appropriations round, would boost spending for Army Corps of Engineers civil-works operation and maintenance (O&M) by 5% from its enacted 2015 level. It also directs spending all of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund's estimated annual revenue on infrastructure improvement projects. On the downside, the legislation nicks the Corps construction account by $8 million.
Jimmy Christianson, director of government affairs for the Associated General Contractors of America's federal and heavy construction division, says last year's WRRDA debate educated members of Congress about the key roles of navigation improvements and Corps O&M. He says, "It seems like Congress is really getting the importance of infrastructure."
But the bill also has a few "glaring omissions," contends Whit Remer, American Society of Civil Engineers senior manager of federal government relations. Remer notes that it provides no funds for two WRRDA initiatives: Corps public-private partnerships and Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act federal loans. "These are new programs that Congress authorized that we worked really hard on, and they are out there, unfunded," he says.
The legislation would prohibit implementing a not-yet-finalized Environmental Protection Agency-Corps rule clarifying the scope of federal permitting authority for construction work near wetlands and other bodies of water. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a separate bill dealing with the issue on April 15; a comparable Senate proposal is expected to be introduced in coming weeks.
The American Road & Transportation Builders, AGC and other construction groups oppose the new rule because it expands the federal jurisdiction for permitting, they contend. At an April 13 water- industry meeting, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy suggested that industry groups would be pleased with the changes the agency has made, based on public input, to the original proposal.
The House subcommittee's spending bill includes a modest 1% increase for Dept. of Energy environmental cleanups at former nuclear-weapons facilities. It also has funds to allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue evaluating public testimony about the viability of the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste. But the measure denies DOE's recent request for money to begin searching for alternative sites to Yucca.
The House plans to vote on the energy-and-water appropriations bill before the May recess. Comparable legislation has yet to be introduced in the Senate.