WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, issued the following statement today in support of the final passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2013:
“While it is far from a perfect bill, this legislation moves the ball forward on a number of important issues for Alabama. It encourages a state-driven, as opposed to Army Corps-driven, solution to the ongoing water wars dispute in our region. This complex issue is best resolved through reasonable negotiations among the Governors of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, and this provision helps moves those discussions forward. The WRDA bill also aims to increase much-needed investments in our Alabama locks and dams, as well as the Port of Mobile. And the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the bill will not violate the budget. I remain concerned about several provisions, including those that delegate too much new authority to the Administration and authorize new projects and programs, but on balance, I think this bill is worthy of support. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues, both in the Senate and the House, to improve the bill further before it becomes law.”
In March, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (S. 601), was approved unanimously by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). Senator Sessions is a member of the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure which has jurisdiction over the WRDA legislation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). Over the past week, the Senate voted on a series of amendments and, today, the Senate passed the bill on a bipartisan vote of 83 to 14.
Importantly, Section 2015 of the bill states that the congressional committees of jurisdiction remain “very concerned” about the Corps’ operation of federal reservoirs near Atlanta, and that absent action by the States to resolve these concerns through an interstate water compact, the committees should consider changes to the Water Supply Act. The Army Corps has relied on the Water Supply Act to allocate vast amounts of water for local use in the Atlanta region, even though that law expressly provides that congressional approval is required for significant local water supply uses. Sessions obtained revisions to Section 2014 of the bill to ensure that the Corps does not receive additional discretion to increase water supply storage at Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona, even while the Corps was able to obtain that authority for other reservoirs elsewhere in the United States. Sessions also joined Senators Rubio, Nelson, and Shelby in co-sponsoring an amendment that would have clarified when congressional approval is required before the Corps is allowed, on its own, to set aside large amounts of a federal reservoir for local water supply. This amendment contained similar language to the provision approved by the Senate EPW Committee in March.
The WRDA bill also contains several other provisions due to Sessions’ efforts on the EPW Committee:
· Requires GAO—the government watchdog—to analyze the Corps’ recent decisions to impose higher costs on TVA ratepayers as a result of dam repair projects to determine if imprudent decisions have been made.
· Helps promote economic development in downtown Guntersville, Alabama through removal of antiquated statutory restrictions on former TVA property along the Tennessee River.
· Requires GAO to review ways to consolidate existing wetlands programs to maximize conservation benefits while saving taxpayer funds.
· Requires a comprehensive review of aquatic invasive species issues, including invasive weeds that are impacting lakes along the Tennessee River and invasive snails impacting Mobile Bay.
· Recognizes the lengthy public service of Don Waldon of Fayette, Alabama, who recently retired after many years of service as the Director of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority, and expresses the Sense of the Senate that, when permitted by the applicable rules of Congress, a lock located on the Tenn-Tom Waterway should be renamed in his honor.
Sessions also filed a series of other amendments to address several concerns. In particular, Amendment #868, which he introduced with Senators Barrasso, Vitter, Crapo, Fischer, and Wicker, would have prevented EPA and the Corps from implementing an agency guidance document to expand federal control over non-federal wetlands. This amendment received the bipartisan support of a majority of the Senate, but fell short of the 60 votes needed for adoption.