The Norman Transcript

May 16, 2013

Sen. Inhofe secures water infrastructure victory

Transcript Staff
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, voted Wednesday in favor of S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, which passed the Senate by a vote of 83-14.

The bill authorizes new water infrastructure projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will significantly reduce the backlog of water projects across the country.

“It is Congress’s constitutional duty to build and maintain our country’s critical national infrastructure, and the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 is essential to meeting this obligation,” Inhofe said. “This bill includes monumental reforms to the environmental review and permitting process that must be followed by the Corps, eliminating unnecessary red tape while significantly reducing the bureaucratic backlog of unfinished projects.”

The Water Resources Development Act authorizes the construction of major navigation and flood risk management projects in a deficit neutral manner with no new direct spending.

The bill provides the Corps of Engineers the flexibility to work with non-federal sponsors such as state and local communities on planning assistance, feasibility studies and project construction.

Included are provisions that require the Army Corps of Engineers to meet deadlines and more expediently resolve all environmental reviews, including the Endangered Species Act.

Expansion of the Port of Catoosa: Inhofe Amendment 797 would allow the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to exchange land currently owned by the Army Corps of Engineers with land owned by the Port Authority. The land exchange will allow port operations to expand and attract industrial growth to the region.

Examination of unfair federal water pricing practices: Communities across the country are exploring long-term water supply solutions for their citizens.

Unfortunately, water storage supplied by the Army Corps of Engineers can be cost-prohibitive due to archaic water storage formulas that produce highly disparate water storage prices.

Section 2016 would require a report from the Government Accountability Office on water storage pricing formulas and allow Congress to address water storage pricing issues.

Provides rural water

infrastructure financing: During Markup, Sen. Inhofe worked with the EPW committee to authorize the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. The WIFIA program is modeled after the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program included in the 2012 MAP-21 highway legislation and would allow for much-needed financing for water infrastructure projects.

Inhofe introduced Amendment 835, which would ensure small, rural municipalities can compete with larger metropolitan areas for WIFIA financing by lowering the cost threshold for qualified projects from $20 million to $5 million for communities with less than 25,000 residents.

By creating a lower project cost threshold for smaller communities, this amendment will provide financing to rehabilitate crumbling drinking and wastewater treatment facilities, improve storm water management and enhance waterway infrastructure and storage facilities for rural communities.

Expands local control over development: Section 2026 authorizes a program whereby non-federal sponsors may conduct previously authorized feasibility studies on their own. Tulsa County would be able to compete in the program, which would allow them to conduct a feasibility study for the Arkansas River Corridor Development Project.

Exempts small farms from EPA regulations: Inhofe secured a permanent exemption from the EPA’s Spill Prevention Control Countermeasure rule for farmers and ranchers. Inhofe championed an amendment that would exempt all tanks of 1,000 gallons or less from the rule.

Farms with an aggregate tank storage capacity of 2,500 gallons or less also would be exempt from the rule. Farms with tank storage capacities between 2,500 gallons and 6,000 gallons would have a temporary exemption, pending a study by the United States Department of Agriculture and the EPA.

The provision also greatly limits the instances when professional engineers must certify spill plans.

Removes federal red tape on local water use: Inhofe worked with members of the EPW Committee to address water shortfalls across the country. Section 3008 would authorize the reassignment of unused irrigation storage on Waurika Lake to be used for various municipal purposes in the region.

Ensures local involvement on waterway: Language in section 5006 would establish an advisory committee for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System to be made up of system stakeholders who will provide recommendations to the Corps of Engineers relating to efficiency, reliability and availability of the navigation system.

Accelerates emergency construction on McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigations System: Inhofe’s Amendment 867 would allow for non-federal sponsors of Corps of Engineers projects to contribute funding to the operations and maintenance of the project during an emergency or natural disaster. Doing so would expedite funding for significant projects, since the sponsors will no longer need to wait on the federal government to grant additional emergency funding to the project.

Lifts prohibition on locally generated power: Amendment 895 would allow entities such as the Cherokee Nation to construct, operate and market a hydroelectric generating facility on the W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River.

Expedited delivery and accountability: The WRDA bill has a number of important environmental permitting streamlining provisions that will ensure that duplicative and onerous environmental reviews do not hold up projects indefinitely.

Failing to make these reforms increases costs to taxpayers and affects the private sector’s willingness to invest in local communities and industries that rely on the nation’s inland waterway to transport goods and services to markets in the U.S. and around the world.

The bill also sets up a process for better coordination between the Corps of Engineers and other federal and non-federal participants in the project review process.

It expands the role for state and local agencies, sets up a comprehensive issue resolution process and creates deadlines for when comments must be made on environmental documents.

Additionally, it includes provisions to ensure that additional environmental reviews are completed within 180 days of the main environmental document.