On December 4, 2020,a joint House-Senate Conference Committee approved a scaled-back water infrastructure bill—S.1811 or the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020. Relevant Congressional Committees in both chambers, the Senate Environment and Public Works and the House Transportation and Infrastructure, have been working diligently behind the scenes on a compromise bill. Both chambers must vote on the bill before it goes to President Trump for signature. What’s not in it? Key drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater provisions. As a result, many hope these priorities find their way into a broad infrastructure bill in 2021 that is also aimed at providing economic relief.
What’s in the bill? The main focus is Army Corp of Engineers projects. Specifically, it would authorize 46 projects and 27 feasibility studies for water resources development projects. Additionally, it would shore up the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), which levies a tax on the value of imported goods and was designed to provide 100% of operations and maintenance costs for deep draft and coastal waterways throughout the U.S. The bill would appropriate $2 billion in funds from HMTF. A fact sheet for the bill, prepared by U.S. House of Representatives Democratic staff of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is available HERE. A number of groups are disappointed in the bill’s scope, including how per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals are addressed. Scott Faber, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs with the Environmental Working Group is quoted as saying, “The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 fails to set deadlines for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate industrial discharges of PFAS and does not even require the Army Corps of Engineers to address PFAS contamination at the Army Corps’ own facilities.”
At the time this article was written, it’s unclear if WRDA 2020 will advance on its own or become part of a larger FY 2021 omnibus funding package. The HMTF language and the rate at which funds are drawn down appear to be preventing Senate passage of the standalone bill. Many suspect it might not advance singularly. One conservation advocate quipped, “It’s probably omnibus or bust!”