The House and Senate Have Approved WRDA 2022 Bills, and Now
Are Working on Reconciling Them into Final WRDA Legislation
By Jon Pawlow
The legislation, which generally passes on a two-year cycle with bipartisan support, is critical for providing a plan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) work on water resources projects for navigation, flood control, and ecosystem restoration.
Staff with the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are currently negotiating a final Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill for 2022, after passing separate House and Senate WRDA legislation earlier this summer.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether they will make it to the finish line this summer or autumn, but the chances look pretty good that they can, for several reasons discussed further below:
- WRDA bills deal with the nation’s water resources infrastructure managed by the Corps. The Corps’ missions, and its associated water resources infrastructure around the Nation, are vital to promoting our nation’s economy, prosperity, and national security through the development, management, protection, and enhancement of the Nation’s water and related land resources for flood damage reduction, commercial navigation, environmental restoration, and allied purposes.
- There is a widespread recognition of the national importance of the Corps’ missions and its associated water resources infrastructure, and WRDAs are the primary authorizing legislation that Congress passes in support of them. (Congress allocates funds for the Corps separately in its annual Appropriations legislation.)
- The States and Districts of many Members of Congress benefit from the Corps water resources projects located or proposed in or near them, which has helped make such projects, and the WRDA legislation authorizing them, very popular on a bipartisan basis in Congress.
- The current House and Senate WRDA 2022 bills, from which final WRDA 2022 legislation will be developed, each have considerable support, in part because the bills would authorize a number of large, important water resources projects (including the massive coastal Texas barrier project proposed for Galveston Bay), include several significant regional priorities (among other things, pertaining to Western water supply, conservation, and drought issues, coastal Louisiana, and Everglades restoration), and notably, add numerous individual Member-directed (so-called “earmark”) proposals for water resources and environmental infrastructure projects.
- Even though the House and Senate WRDA 2022 bills carry large price tags, the two bills each passed the respective chamber by wide margins, evidencing the strong support behind these bills. Back in June, the House overwhelmingly approved its water resource projects legislation that would authorize almost $40 billion worth of new projects for the Corps. The House voted 384-37 for H.R. 7776, WRDA 2022, sponsored by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.). And at the end of July, the Senate voted 93-1 to pass its version of WRDA, which would authorize approximately $55 billion worth of new water projects. The Senate bill was sponsored by Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).
- The House and Senate bills to a good extent align with each other, although there are some differences that will need to be reconciled for a final bill. Fortunately, unlike the recent previous WRDA bills, the House and Senate went relatively light on major, transformative, or hot-button policy proposals in their WRDA 2022 bills, thereby helping to minimize controversies surrounding the legislation and making it potentially easier for the House and Senate committees to reconcile their respective bills.
- In particular, unlike some prior WRDA bills, the 2022 bills are not carrying Clean Water Act (CWA) or Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments, as it appears there is bicameral agreement to keep such provisions out of WRDA. (Opening up WRDA to the CWA or SDWA could readily lead to highly controversial provisions being offered, which could bog down and result in loss of support for the WRDA bill.)
The House and Senate are poised to find compromise by year’s end on a final WRDA 2022 bill. The race is on there to get the compromise legislation finalized soon, so the final bill can go to the floor for votes and be passed in each chamber, hopefully before Congress recesses in advance of the midterm elections.
However, the Congressional schedule is tight, with only a limited number of legislative days scheduled in both chambers, and there is plenty of competition for the attention of Congress from a pile of other pending important legislation, including Appropriations funding of the Federal Government for fiscal year 2023.