The future of our oceans, rivers, coastlines and other waterways is looking much brighter, thanks to the passing of a $12.3 billion water infrastructure projects bill by the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) addresses management of U.S. waterways and coasts and includes billions of dollars in high-impact projects. Assuming President Barack Obama signs the bill into law, it will be the first federal water infrastructure authorization since 2007.
The bill is the product of several months of Senate-House negotiations, as the two chambers worked to resolve disagreements over which projects should receive congressional funding. When negotiations first commenced, the House had passed a partisan amendment offered by Congressman Bill Flores (R-TX) that would block the Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the National Ocean Policy, which promotes smart ocean planning and ocean protection. Conversely, the Senate included a provision offered by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), which would establish a National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) to support conservation and restoration of ocean resources.
In the final WRDA bill, the Flores provision was axed while the Whitehouse provision passed. The Flores provision would have made it much more difficult to protect important habitat and ocean wildlife; build climate resilience; address changing ocean conditions like ocean acidification; encourage sustainable use; and provide greater certainty for businesses and other ocean users. Luckily, the provision failed and Congress preserved a policy that promotes smart ocean planning and science-based management of our resources.
The Whitehouse provision authorizes the Corps, in coordination with states, nonprofit organizations and other stakeholders, to undertake studies to determine the feasibility of projects to enhance ocean and coastal ecosystem resilience. The studies will help the Corps identify specific projects, such as restoring wetlands that offer protection from storms, making beaches more resilient to erosion and helping ecosystems adapt to sea level rise.
The measure passed despite strong opposition from the influential conservative group Heritage Action, which urged lawmakers to vote against it. Heritage Action said the bill “hikes spending while doing little to reduce bureaucracy and limit the role of the federal government.” However, the bill was passed 412-4 by the House, and 91-7 in the Senate. For a branch of government that can barely pass a budget, this is a rare example of bona fide bipartisanship.
“This legislation is a reminder–an unfortunately stark reminder—that given a chance to work together in a bipartisan fashion, we can produce results for the American people,” said Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).
Image Credit: Serge Melki
Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainability, social entrepreneurship, tech, politics and law. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower)