Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Senate Committee Bills Would Steer Billions To Water Infrastructure

Washington, D.C.—Leaders of a key Senate committee released draft versions of two water infrastructure bills that together would authorize nearly $20 billion in new federal funding for projects including those to help maintain navigability of inland waterways and deepen nationally significant ports.

Keeping the title of a bipartisan 2018 bill that passed the Senate by a vote of 99 to 1, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 would authorize roughly $17 billion in new funding, set a two-year goal for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete feasibility studies for potential projects consistent with a standard set by President Donald Trump, and adjust the cost-share for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for project construction costs and major rehabilitation of locks and dams.

Another provision would create a mechanism for the Corps to develop a list of approved projects to be funded through the congressional appropriations process.

A second draft version deals with drinking water infrastructure and would authorize about $2.5 billion in new funding.

“Our committee is working together to improve the nation’s dams, ports, flood-prevention infrastructure, reservoirs and drinking water systems,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“These draft bills will help create jobs and grow the economy,” he said. “The draft legislation will help ensure American-made goods are safely shipped from one state to another and that the water Americans are drinking is safe.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the panel’s ranking member, said the bills address levees, dams, ports, flood-prevention infrastructure and other areas that can be overlooked.

As part of its information-gathering process, the committee also began accepting written statements electronically from five “invited” stakeholders with comments from other stakeholders scheduled to be received in the coming days.

 Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has had his panel working on WRDA for several months and hopes to introduce a House version by Memorial Day.

Lawmakers want to stick with a years-long tradition of passing a WRDA bill every two years.

Even as a roughly $480 billion so-called interim bill was working its way through Congress, President Trump again made it clear he wanted another coronavirus relief package, with infrastructure to be included.

“I think infrastructure is going to be a big part. We have to rebuild our country,” the president told reporters.

Trump said he also remained open to including coronavirus aid to states in the measure, a major goal of leading congressional Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, is not on board.

In interviews, McConnell has said he wants to hit the “pause button” on such bills, pointing to a lack of discussion about adding $2.7 trillion to the national debt and the threat that could pose for the country’s future.

“I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local government needs to be thoroughly evaluated,” McConnell said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters he will be preparing to move forward with another bill.

“We know there will be a COVID 4 because President Trump has been demanding a COVID 4. In fact, because he wants to do infrastructure in it,” Schumer said. “He has said that to us.”

Navigable Waters Rule

The Trump administration officially published its Navigable Waters Protection Rule, a crucial step in a years-long effort to kill and replace the controversial Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule of 2015.

With its publication in the Federal Register by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the new rule is set to take effect June 22.

Supporters promote the regulatory certainty the new rule provides farmers, landowners and businesses to accelerate projects and avoid costly litigation. They point to the clarification between what waters will fall under federal or state regulation.

Critics warn the new definition will lead to more pollution and new litigation.

For additional information, contact Michael McDavit at 202-566-2465 or Jennifer Moyer at 202-761-5903.

Chemical Tables

The Coast Guard is finalizing its 2013 proposal to update the Liquid Chemical Categorization tables and provide a list of liquid hazardous materials and liquefied and compressed gases approved for international and domestic maritime transportation.

Effective May 18, the final rule also indicates how each substance is categorized by its pollution potential, safe carriage requirements, chemical flammability, combustibility and compatibility with other substances.

It also aligns the tables with the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk and the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee circulars from December 2012 and 2013.

“This final rule corrects errors in our interim rule of August 16, 2013, and follows our supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking of October 22, 2015,” the Coast Guard stated in its Federal Register posting.

“This rule imposes no cost to chemical shippers and vessel owners.”

For additional information, contact Lt. Jake Lobb at 202-372-1428 or Dr. Raghunath Halder at 202-372-1422.

5G Dispute

Global Positioning System (GPS)-dependent services used by the maritime industry and others in the transportation sector were caught up in an unusually sharp debate over the unanimous approval by the Federal Communications Commission of Virginia company Ligado’s plan for a 5G network.

Key members of the Trump administration and Congress ended up on opposite sides of the issue.

Critics included the departments of Defense and Transportation and nearly a dozen other federal agencies that warned Ligado’s plan could lead to widespread interruptions.

“GPS is used daily by Americans for all forms of transportation, both passenger and freight, in cars, trucks, buses, planes, rail, and ships, as well as modern emergency response systems,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, deputy assistant secretary for research and technology at the Department of Transportation.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, singled out Ligado’s plan to use a portion of the L-band spectrum, which is also used for GPS, for a 5G network.

“It is unconscionable that the FCC is putting industry profiteering ahead of numerous experts who have made clear that approving Ligado’s application poses a litany of safety and security risks,” DeFazio said in a statement.

In a press release announcing the action, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted the agency’s action was supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Stringent conditions were included to protect against harmful interference, the FCC’s press release stated.

Boat Station Consolidation

The Coast Guard is reopening the comment period for its planned consolidation of possibly five “redundant” boat stations after an interested person requested more time to comment.

Comments must reach the Coast Guard by May 4.

Oxford, Md.; Fishers Island, N.Y.; Shark River and Salem, N.J.; and Roosevelt Inlet, Pa., have been identified as candidates for consolidation with neighboring stations.

“We do not anticipate any adverse effect on Coast Guard response capability,” the Coast Guard stated.

“We expect an improvement to the proficiency of boat operators as well as a less complicated response system.”

For additional information, contact Todd Aikins at 202-372-2463.