Just a week after the House held a discussion on what a new Water Resources Develop Act (WRDA) should look like, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing Wednesday to kick off that chambers work on the legislation. Opting for a more formal setting than the House roundtable approach, the Senate held a full Committee hearing, giving stakeholders an opportunity to express requests for the bill on the record.
Norma Jean Mattei, President-Elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers provided testimony on the state of the nation’s water infrastructure, using the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Representatives from the Port of Tusla, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, Nucor Corporation, and North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters also testified. Dr. Mattei testified that the Report Card grades for water resources were so bad that failing to address problem could cost 800,000 American jobs by 2020. The grades (Inland Waters Ways D-, Dams D, Levees D-, and Ports C) were so bad that Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) asked to enter the entire report card into the Congressional record. Nearly every Senator on the Committee referenced the Report Card grades, with Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) even noting her state’s own report card, Report Card for New York’s Infrastructure, released in 2015 didn’t fare much better.
Airing out the poor grades teed up a more serious conversation on how to address the nation’s aging infrastructure. Nothing was left off the table: aging locks causing multimillion dollar delays at ports, the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and high hazard deficient dams across the country were all brought up as possible issues to address in the new bill. Lawmakers have promised to get a bill through this Congress, retuning the legislation to its previous two year cycle. All the witnesses agreed that a two-year cycle provides certainty to project sponsors, keeps the price of the bill manageable and helps reduce the backlog of Army Corps projects.
Keeping the bill bipartisan and getting enough momentum in an election year will be the challenge moving forward. The Committee will be on a tight deadline to mark-up and pass a bill with dwindling Congressional calendar work days.