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Senate Water Resources Bill Adds Earmarks, Again

The new version of the Water Resources Development Act introduced by the bipartisan leadership of the Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday added more than 125 projects for individual Senators, worth a total of about $1.6 billion, to the bill the committee released a week earlier.

At the request of EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the new bill also increased the total value of projects for California to about $1.4 billion, nearly doubling what the committee had originally approved.

But the substitute reduced the overall cost of the bill by more than $16 billion by eliminating long-term spending for Louisiana coast protections.

Most of the additional projects in the substitute bill were in a new section called “Environmental Infrastructure,” which authorizes spending for unspecified water supply and wastewater projects in specific geographic areas. The Senate added dozens of environmental infrastructure projects between the release of the committee-passed bill April 30 and the manager’s amendment May 10. This section added about $775 million worth of projects, doled out in chunks of about $20 million to $50 million for Senators to disburse among regions of their states.

The House also added millions of dollars to its bill in an environmental infrastructure package put in between the committee vote and the House floor.

The Senate Committee rewrote a section of the bill dealing with hurricane protection for Louisiana, which the Congressional Budget Office said would inflate the total cost of the bill to more than $30 billion. By eliminating some of the out-year spending the original bill would have approved, the total cost of the new Senate WRDA bill would be about $13.9 billion over 15 years, the CBO estimated.

But the new projects raised the short-term cost of the bill from about $5.5 billion to about $7.1 billion from 2008 to 2012.

The substitute bill that the Senate began debating Thursday significantly increased California’s share of the pie, with one major project in Sacramento making up the bulk of the increase. The committee-passed bill included a study — but no funding — for flood control projects along the Sacramento and American Rivers, near the Golden State capital, which has some of the weakest flood protections of any major American city. But the substitute bill added a specific $444 million project to build a spillway to control floods in the area. Staffers explained that an Army Corps of Engineers study of the project was completed after the committee marked up the bill in March, at which point the project became eligible for funding.

Sen. James Inhofe’s (R) share of projects for Oklahoma grew from about $12 million in the first draft to just under $55 million in the final bill.

While Congress has not passed a WRDA bill since 2000, in each attempt since then, the cost of California projects has increased. In April 2005, Boxer issued a press release celebrating the EPW’s approval of a WRDA bill including $645 million in federal funding for water projects in California. The bill the committee released April 30 included about $850 million for California, a total that grew to $1.4 billion in the final bill.

Boxer and Inhofe also indicated that they could add more projects before a final vote on the bill, though any addition would have to be unanimously approved by the bipartisan leadership of the EPW, including Boxer, Inhofe, and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who lead the subcommittee where the bill originated. “We will oppose all amendments that are not unanimously agreed to by the four of us in order to keep the balance in this bill,” Boxer said. “If we have amendments all four of us can agree to, they will be placed in a managers’ package.”

The WRDA bill is the first in the Senate to attempt to comply with the earmark reforms in S.1, the ethics bill that has passed the Senate but is awaiting conference with the House. Boxer and Inhofe released a list of earmarks along with the new bill as it went to the floor May 10, and posted it on the EPW Web site. But by noon the list was gone and Boxer explained on the floor that the committee was correcting some errors.

That afternoon the list was back on the committee Web site, with several additional sponsors added to various projects. Most notably, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was added as a sponsor of the Sacramento River flood project and Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) name was added to several million dollars worth of projects from Louisiana that previously had been listed as Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) requests.

On Friday afternoon the committee also posted to the Web site declarations from each Senator with an earmark in the bill certifying that they have no direct financial interest in the earmarks they have requested.

The White House released a statement Friday opposing the WRDA bill and particularly condemning the addition of the environmental infrastructure section. “In a time when fiscal restraint is much needed, the additional spending authorized in this bill, such as provisions for local wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects, is unacceptable,” the administration wrote.

Nevertheless, the bill has broad bipartisan support, and Inhofe said on the Senate floor Thursday “I am ranked No. 1 as the most conservative Member of the Senate, [but] I feel we need to spend in areas of national defense and infrastructure, and this bill is the second most important infrastructure bill that is out there. We are far beyond the time we should have had this.”

Inhofe and others pointed out that the bill merely authorizes spending but does not release any money.

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