Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Resiliency May Be WRDA Sticking Point

Washington, D.C.—A House hearing on using the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to promote infrastructure resiliency exposed  major differences on the popular legislation that traditionally encourages bipartisanship.

“Want to see the impacts of climate change?” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, asked in his prepared remarks.

“Look no further than water. You can see this through sea level rise, glacier melt and extreme weather events through droughts, hurricanes and record rainfall.”

Ensuring communities manage such risks must be part of the WRDA discussion, DeFazio said.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), who led the hearing as chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, said that that discussion will include how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers builds resiliency into its decision making and how a changing climate impacts how the agency manages its inventory of projects.

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, used his opening remarks to stress the “very poor” state of the nation’s aging infrastructure and the need to ensure the historic level of funding provided to the Corps—more than $15 billion in the last two fiscal years alone—is used expeditiously to rebuild and improve the nation’s infrastructure.

“The simple fact of the matter is that a project can’t be resilient, unless and until it is built,” Westerman said.

During her testimony, Julie Ufner, the new president of the National Waterways Conference, urged the panel to build its WRDA solutions on the experiences of port operators, levee boards and others on the front line.

“A common understanding of ‘resilience’ ought to be a first step in this discussion,” Ufner said.

DeFazio once again made it clear his committee plans to stick with a years-long timetable, which calls for passage of the next WRDA in 2020.

Stopgap Funding Measure

With just hours to spare, the U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval to another stopgap measure to extend government funding through December 20 and keep federal agencies open beyond the current November 21 deadline.

Passed by a vote of 74 to 20, the measure now goes to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

That Senate vote followed a 231-192 vote in the House.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations, explained H.R. 3055 not only keeps funding flowing to agencies but it also provides for a number of changes, including provisions to ensure a 3.1 percent pay raise for all members of the military, full funding for the 2020 Census and an extension of expiring health care programs.

“Even with passage of this CR, American families, businesses, and communities need the certainty of full-year funding,” Lowey said, calling for lawmakers to come together to settle subcommittee allocations and enact full-year spending bills.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) explained his vote against the CR by calling on the House to return to regular order and abandon what he called partisan incompetence that leaves federal agencies in limbo and risks the readiness of the nation’s military.

Clean Water Act Abuses

A key Senate committee held another hearing on its chairman’s efforts to end what he sees as abuses of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by a few states to stop much-needed energy projects.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who heads up the Environment and Public Works Committee, said several states have “weaponized” CWA’s Section 401 to block energy projects such as the $680 million Millennium Bulk Terminal Project in Washington state that would have allowed cleaner coal from his state and others in the West to be exported around the world.

Barrasso has introduced the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act, S. 1087, to end such practices by clarifying what is an appropriate review for water quality certification under the CWA.

Since last year’s hearing, he said other energy projects have been blocked, such as a $9.8 billion liquefied natural gas terminal and pipeline project in Oregon.

Republican Govs. Mark Gordon of Wyoming and Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma appeared at the hearing to support his cause.

Laura Watson, senior assistant attorney general of Washington state, also testified and defended her state’s action.

Watson described Section 401 as an effective and important tool states have used to ensure that federally permitted activities do not cause water pollution.

She said Section 401 is under attack not only by Barrasso’s bill but by a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would place those decisions by states in the hands of federal agencies.

States across the country and the political spectrum have expressed opposition to EPA’s proposed rules, Watson said, adding that Native American tribes also have come out against the agency’s efforts.

Corps Webinars

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled two more webinars on its Revolutionize USACE Civil Works initiative.

Scheduled at 1 p.m. on December 5 and December 19, the webinars can be joined online by going to the agency’s website, www.usace.army.mil, or by phone by calling 888-273-3658 and using access code 8350039 and security code 0039.

Contact the agency at CW.Infrastructure.Team@usace.army.mil for additional information about the webinars.

Described in bold terms, the initiative lists three objectives: accelerate project delivery, transform project financing and budgeting and improve permitting and regulation reform.

The National Waterways Conference included an article by the Revolutionize USACE Civil Works Team in its latest newsletter, which credited its progress to accelerating project execution, working with stakeholders, exploring innovative tools, simplifying processes and pursuing alternative financing approaches.

“Collectively, the Revolutionize efforts have already potentially saved over 200 months of time in project schedules, accelerating delivery of projects across the nation,” the team stated.

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