Washington Waves
Washington Waves

New Bipartisan Group To Negotiate Infrastructure Deal

Washington, D.C.—After ending infrastructure talks with Republicans, President Joe Biden urged a bipartisan group of senators to pursue its own negotiations and then turned to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to prepare for floor action in July.

Schumer, who previously had set July as a target date, embraced the approach that could lead to action with only Democratic votes.

“We’re pursuing a two-path proposal,” he told reporters, identifying the bipartisan negotiations as one path.

“That’s good, but that’s not going to be the only answer. We all know as a caucus we will not be able to do all the things that the country needs in a bipartisan way. And so at the same time we are pursuing the pursuit of reconciliation, and that is going on at the same time.”

Under reconciliation, Democrats, if united, could pass at least part of Biden’s massive infrastructure and jobs package on a straight party-line vote without any Republican support.

“We’re not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill,” Schumer said.

“We’ll just pursue two paths, and at some point they will join.”

Major differences that doomed talks between Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) appear to remain.

Traveling with Biden on his first overseas trip as president, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden sees the multiple fronts on infrastructure as a positive development and expects the numbers to be higher than those in previous talks.

Psaki also cited the mark-up of the House surface transportation bill that overlaps Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

WOTUS Revision

The Biden administration announced it intends to revive a revised version of the controversial, Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requested the Trump-era WOTUS successor—the Navigable Waters Protection Rule—be remanded.

“After reviewing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule as directed by President Biden, the EPA and Department of the Army have determined that this rule is leading to significant environmental degradation,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

“We are committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from the lessons learned from the current and previous regulations, as well as input from a wide array of stakeholders, so we can better protect our nation’s waters, foster economic growth and support thriving communities.”

Repealing and replacing WOTUS was viewed by Republicans and other supporters of the Trump administration as its signature environmental achievement.

That effort took years and triggered serious challenges, a pattern that no doubt will be repeated with the Biden administration’s effort.

“It is appalling that the Biden administration would rush to repeal a rule that provides clarity and alleviates unnecessary burdens on our farmers and ranchers,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.

Corps Budget

Echoing concern from her House counterpart, a key Democratic senator expressed dismay over what she saw as the Biden administration’s bid to shortchange the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in its fiscal year 2022 budget request.

“The Army Corps’ budget request represents more than a billion-dollar cut to the Civil Works program,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

“I am really disappointed that this administration has fallen to the same pattern of underfunding the Corps’ budget.”

Even with the billion-dollar cut, the roughly $6.8 billion request for civil works represents “the highest annual budget ever proposed,” according to testimony from Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jaime Pinkham.

During the subcommittee hearing, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), stressed the importance of ports for landlocked states like his and asked the Corps for a list of the maintenance needs for the nation’s ports.

“All of our grain goes to a port, and if we can’t get it out, we’re done,” Tester said.

“We need to have those export opportunities. So, I’d love to know what kind of shape our ports are in.”

That information also would help make sure port infrastructure will be available, he added

Port Investment

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) is urging Congress to make an immediate and substantial investment in ports as part of the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan to modernize U.S. maritime infrastructure and ensure American ports remain competitive.

 “The consequences of decades-long underinvestment in maritime infrastructure are playing out in real time in the form of supply chain disruptions and delays that have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” AAPA President and CEO Chris Connor said.

“Current disruptions will diminish over time, but with global trade volumes forecasted to increase, now is the time for significant and sustained federal investment in a stronger and more resilient port infrastructure.”

Examination Working Group

The National Maritime Center (NMC) announced an effort to resume a merchant mariner working group to review examination questions.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NMC canceled working group meetings in 2020.

 Its announcement also included a tentative 2021 schedule with meetings on August 10–12 and August 24–26 in Martinsburg, W.Va.

“If you would like to participate in the scheduled sessions … or any future session, please follow the application instructions on the Examinations page of the NMC website,” the agency stated.

“Submit the required information to NMCExamWorkingGroup@uscg.mil. Once we have reviewed your request, we will contact you to discuss further details and confirm the session(s) you wish to attend.”

MRRIC Vacancies

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking applications to fill vacancies on the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC), representing categories of interests within the Missouri River basin.

Applications and endorsement letters must be received by July 9 and can be submitted by mail to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District (Attn: MRRIC), 601 E 12th St., Kansas City, MO 64106 or email to mrric@usace.army.mil with ‘‘MRRIC’’ in the subject line.

Established under a 2007 law, the MRICC was formed to advise the Corps on the Missouri River and its tributaries.

Applications are being accepted in the following categories: conservation districts, environmental, fish and wildlife, hydropower, irrigation, local government, major tributaries, navigation, recreation, thermal power, water supply, water quality and waterway industries.

For additional information, contact Lisa Rabbe at 816-389-3837.