On May 15, the U.S. Senate passed S. 601, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 83-14. The lead sponsors were Sens. Boxer (D-Calif.) and Vitter (R-La.), the Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
Historically, WRDA has been a popular biannual bill, funding a number of earmarked projects. Last enacted in 2007, WRDA has faced an uphill battle in the past several years, due to the earmark ban. S. 601 carefully worked around the earmark ban by granting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) authority over what projects should move forward. This decision has caused controversy in the House, where Members are concerned about giving the Corps too much decision-making authority over projects.
WRDA authorizes $12.5 billion, to be applied to many water related issues in counties, involving navigation channels, harbors, beach management, levee repair, aquatic ecosystems, flood emergency and water infrastructure projects through the Corps. Additionally, WRDA contains a number of policy directives for the Corps. Funding for WRDA projects is accomplished through the yearly appropriations process.
Prior to debate, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) planned to offer an amendment to freeze flood insurance premiums under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could study the impacts of the increased rates on affordability issues. However, after concerns were raised, Sen. Landrieu withdrew her amendment.
Another unsuccessful amendment was offered by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from finalizing its “Waters of the U.S.” guidance. While the amendment received a simple majority vote of 52-44, it ultimately failed to garner the needed 60 votes for inclusion.
NACo weighed in on several of the provisions in the bill, in a letter that can be viewed here. Specifically, NACo was interested in the levee provisions, the Corps Vegetation Management policy, and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). HMTF, into which fees from shippers are collected, is used for the dredging of ports and harbors. Historically, HMTF has spent substantially less than it collects, which has resulted in a balance in the fund of nearly $7 billion. S. 601 would increase funding from the HMTF beginning with $1 billion in FY2014 and increasing every year thereafter by $100 million through FY2019. Beginning in FY2020, all funds collected would have to be spent.
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