The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee advanced a $5.5 billion Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) this week. A path forward for H.R. 5303 will require support from the full chamber, a commitment by House leadership to give the bill floor time, and ultimately a compromise with the much more expansive Senate bill that advanced out of the Environment and Public Works Committee several weeks ago.
It was expected the House would introduce a much smaller “pamphlet” sized bill that would be limited primarily to Army Corps projects studies and authorizations. The base text of the bill includes 28 Corps project authorizations, but also several policy reforms, including one to continue to improve funding of the nation’s harbors. Currently, ports will collect fees from shippers for harbor maintenance, but those funds first go to the Treasury where Congress has made a habit of using the money for unrelated activities. The WRDA bill would set target levels Congress would have to follow to ensure the funds are used for harbor maintenance. The bill would establish a new pilot program to beneficially use sediment dredged from navigation channels to restore shorelines, beaches, and wetlands. The Senate WRDA bill (S.2848) also included a provision on beneficial use of dredged material (section 2017).
During the House WRDA markup 21 amendments were offered, most of which were ultimately withdrawn after Chairman Shuster (R-PA) agreed to work with members to resolve their issues separately. Several amendments did pass including one that would allow wetland mitigation banks for Gulf Coast restoration, a new comprehensive study at the Corps South Atlantic Division and a manager’s amendment that includes a study of nature based solutions for water resources projects.
The Senate will likely make the next move and work to get their version of the WRDA bill floor time in late June. Timing on the House side is less clear. There remains significant differences in the two bills, including the major clean water/ drinking water titles in the Senate bill that weren’t included in the House bill. Even if each full chamber passes their respective versions, working details out in conference will likely prove to be challenging.