On May 15th, the Senate gave final approval, by a vote of 83-14, to S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013. As we indicated previously, any legislation authorizing additional funds for water infrastructure projects is remarkable in these times of sequestration. In this case, credit the difference, in large part, to two factors: (1) the Senate-passed WRDA bill does not include any earmarking but instead authorizes all “ready-to-go” water development projects, i.e. those with both a completed Report from the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers and a referral to Congress by the Corps (Section 1002); and (2) the Harbor Maintenance Trust fund, which funds all water projects, has a healthy surplus of almost $7 billion.
The question now is how the House will proceed. This week, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA-9) expressed concerns over the “no earmark” approach of this authorization legislation. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee noted at the time of the introduction of S. 601 that it currently represented “18 projects that address all of the major mission areas of the Corps of Engineers including flood risk management, navigation, hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, and environmental restoration.” However the Chairman, and others on the Committee, feel the list should be prepared with congressional involvement, as in prior years, to ensure that funding is spread between water projects appropriately and based on need. The Chairman has promised to introduce and pass a WRDA bill before the August recess that includes such a provision. Whether a majority of the House can be persuaded to adopt this position remains to be seen.