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Water Resources Development Act talks begin, conferees hopeful

Formal negotiations on water resources development legislation are now underway.

A conference meeting held Wednesday began addressing differences between the Senate Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and the House Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which seek to reauthorize water resources development programs.

Ideally legislation will be passed before year’s end, and while the Senate and House versions carry different names, there is significant overlap in both measures. Each would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop, maintain and support the nation’s port and waterways infrastructure needs, and support effective and targeted flood protection and environmental concerns.

During opening statements Wednesday, Senate Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer of California said conferees will work during the Thanksgiving break to resolve final differences. While there are several issues to work through, lawmakers are optimistic about getting a final bill done. Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said the similarities between the two bills exceed the differences.

However differences did come up during the conference meeting. Senate Environment Committee Ranking Member David Vitter of Louisiana said the bill passed by the Senate could create up to 500,000 jobs. House Natural Resources Committee Chair Richard Hastings expressed concern about the oversight of federal water projects; dams in particular. He said the Senate bill would give the Army Corps of Engineers broad discretion to change project purposes without congressional approval, while the House bill keeps that authority within Congress. Congress shouldn’t forfeit its responsibility to ensure billions of taxpayer dollars are managed responsibly, according to Hastings.

The Senate WRDA bill also includes language to modify the EPA’s Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure rule. The EPA regulation currently affects any facility with a fuel storage capacity of more than 1,320 gallons; the Senate provision provides an immediate 6,000 gallon exemption.