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January 21, 2020

Energy & Environment Daily

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Committee leaders ask for infrastructure proposals, priorities

Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporter

Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2020Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.). Photo credit: Francis Chung/E&E News

House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and ranking member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.). Francis Chung/E&E News


House lawmakers are ramping up their preparations for writing a new water infrastructure reauthorization bill.

Leaders of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sent a letter to other House lawmakers Friday asking them to start thinking about project and policy priorities for the initiative.


Congress passes a water infrastructure authorization bill every two years, and the legislation focuses on Army Corps of Engineers projects for navigation, flood reduction, shoreline protection and ecosystem restoration.


"Regular consideration of locally-driven, rigorously-studied, and nationally-significant Corps infrastructure is key to preserving our Nation's economy, to protecting our communities and businesses, and to maintaining our quality of life," wrote Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).


Other signatories included ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and ranking member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).


The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has already held a number of hearings in preparation for drafting legislation.

Committee leaders told lawmakers they will be invited to another session at the end of February to discuss particular issues.

For specific infrastructure projects to be included in the bill, the Army Corps must first conduct a cost-benefit analysis of them, approve and then include them on a list sent to Congress.


A list sent last spring includes 15 infrastructure projects, including one to restore ecosystem function within the Anacostia River watershed, but the Army Corps' commanding general, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, told lawmakers last week he expects to approve dozens more initiatives by the end of this year.


In addition to specific projects, lawmakers are considering policy areas that could be improved.


The Florida Everglades are likely to make an appearance in the bill discussion and text. Lawmakers from the Sunshine State have pressed Army Corps officials at recent hearings about how to better manage water discharges from Lake Okeechobee, which can cause toxic algal blooms on the state's west and east coasts.


Florida Republican Reps. Brian Mast and Francis Rooney have each introduced legislation aimed at preventing the Army Corps from releasing too much water from the lake, and Mast raised the subject with corps leadership at a committee hearing earlier this month.

While the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has yet to hold water infrastructure-related hearings this year, Florida Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have also been pressing the corps on a separate Everglades issue.


The pair wrote a letter asking Army Corps leaders to give "full and fair consideration" to a slew of Florida projects when it allocates funding that has already been approved by Congress. Their letter included a number of initiatives in the Everglades.


"Floridians depend on the expertise and diligence of the Army Corps of Engineers — often in partnership with non-federal interests — to study, design, construct, maintain, and operate important water resources infrastructure across the Sunshine State," the pair wrote.


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