Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Congressional Leaders Expect To Pass WRDA Next Year

Washington, D.C.—Increasing the navigability of the nation’s waterways was among the top goals promoted by an influential U.S. senator as members of both houses of Congress get ready to move ahead with the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020.

“Our nation’s inland waterways in particular are a vital commercial network that transports agricultural goods, raw materials and products from middle America to the coasts and beyond,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“These projects are vital to the economic health of our country, and will keep America’s economy strong.”

Barrasso made those comments as he kicked off his panel’s second hearing on water resources, citing its bipartisan record of passing a WRDA bill every two years in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

“I look forward to doing the same again in 2020,” he said.

Other issues Barrasso cited in his opening remarks included flood prevention, levee system modernization and combating the threat of invasive species.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, also repeated her plan to pass a WRDA 2020 as she led a roundtable on the upcoming legislation in Islamorada, Fla.

Napolitano called the event a “great opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to passing a new water resources bill this year and maintain recent successes of enacting a new WRDA bill every two years.”

Michael Rubin, vice president of governmental affairs for the Florida Ports Council, spoke at the roundtable and expressed support for using the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for its “intended purpose” of maintaining commercial harbors and addressing limitations on working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on completing projects in a timely manner,

Despite what seems like solid commitments from such major lawmakers, the National Waterways Conference asked “Is There Time for WRDA 2020” in its October 2019 newsletter before going on to state that lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol have been expected to “hit the ground running early in 2020 to introduce, mark up and conference their respective bills in the first half of next year so that they don’t get caught up in the election-year schedule morass.”

WOTUS Repeal

Two key agencies published a long-awaited final rule repealing the controversial 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that critics say led to regulatory confusion and multiple legal actions.

Scheduled to take effect December 23, the rule published in the Federal Register also restores the regulatory text that existed before the Obama-era rule of 2015.

It was published by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army, which reported in its filing that approximately 770,000 public comments were submitted and reviewed before the rule was finalized.

Referred to as Step 1, the final rule to kill the 2015 rule is expected to be followed by Step 2, which is to include a new WOTUS definition the agency says will provide a clear definition of where federal jurisdiction begins and ends under the Clean Water Act.

EPA expects to have Step 2 completed this winter.

New legal action had been expected, and the Pacific Legal Foundation quickly filed a lawsuit on behalf of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association challenging the Trump administration’s decision to revert back to the pre-2015 regulatory framework, which the group insists is unconstitutional.

One day before the final rule was published, the White House promoted President Trump’s effort to roll back regulations such as WOTUS 2015.

For additional information on the rule, contact Michael McDavit, EPA, at 202-566-2428 or Jennifer Moyer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 202-761-6903.

Appropriations Package

On the stalled appropriations process for fiscal year 2020, the Senate took a small step toward breaking the impasse by voting 92 to 2 on a procedural motion to take up its first package of domestic spending bills.

But even that overwhelming vote was not enough to quell talk that another stopgap measure will be needed when the current continuing resolution (CR) that is keeping the government funded and open runs out on November 21.

Such speculation focused on not only whether a second CR would be needed but how long it would run.

Would leadership want a short CR to keep the pressure on appropriators? Or, would they prefer one that would last weeks, even months, into 2020?

“It is already Day 22 of the current fiscal year,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said as his chamber was preparing to vote on the procedural motion.

Shelby brought up the prospect of serial CRs as well as another government shutdown, both of which, he said, cast a dark shadow over previous success.

“The clock is ticking on the continuing resolution, and we have to break through the logjam,” he said.

Issues involved in the impasse remain the same: no agreement on the allocations that set the spending limits on individual agencies and huge differences on funding a wall that President Donald Trump wants to build along the southern border.

Waterway Threat Analysis

The House Homeland Security Committee approved a bill requiring a threat analysis of the nation’s inland waterways.

“Maritime security is a critical component of our nation’s homeland security,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), who introduced H.R. 4402, the Inland Waters Security Review Act.

“We must consider our inland waterways as we conduct thorough security and threat assessments related to maritime security.”

Lesko pointed out that her bill, which was advanced by the committee without requiring a roll call vote, enjoys bipartisan support.

Conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, the assessment is to cover criminal threats faced by waterways, security challenges at ports, security mitigation efforts, vulnerabilities related to cooperation between state, local and tribal law enforcement or international agreements and performance measures used by DHS to evaluate security of inland waterways.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the House committee’s ranking member, expressed hope some of the legislation approved by the panel could be rolled into a robust DHS authorization product later in the legislative session.