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U.S. to pass $12B water infrastructure plan

The water resources bill will authorize 34 water-related infrastructure projects



WASHINGTON—The United States Congress is on the cusp of passing its first infrastructure bill of the year.

The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a $12.3 billion water resources bill that authorizes 34 water projects, from managing flood risks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and restoring environment in Louisiana to dredging Boston Harbor.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act is a bipartisan compromise of companion bills passed separately by the House and Senate last year. After more than six months of negotiations, the House voted on the measure Tuesday, approving it 412-4.

The Senate will now have its say, potentially sending a bill to President Barack Obama that supporters have said will create jobs and provide needed investment in the nation’s waterways.

The bill’s backers include building associations and business interests, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that have said the projects sketched out in the bill will provide construction jobs and make improvements needed to keep the U.S. competitive. In the House, it won support from virtually every constituency, with only four lawmakers—all Republicans—voting against it.

Some conservative and watchdog groups have criticized the bill, saying it does not go far enough to curb spending.

The bill’s authors have argued that the bill does more to rein in spending than any previous water bill. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, noted that in addition to approving 34 projects, the legislation puts an end to $18 billion of dormant water projects passed before 2007. The bill’s potential price tag, at $12.3 billion, is a little more than half the $23.3 billion estimated cost of the last water projects bill Congress authorized, in 2007.

This year’s bill authorizes an array of projects from coast to coast.

Iowa will see roughly $73.1 million to improve flood protections in Cedar Rapids, an eastern Iowa city that suffered devastating flooding in 2008.

Along the Louisiana coast, the bill puts more than $1 billion for environmental restoration.

Massachusetts is allotted $216 million for dredging and expansion in Boston Harbor.

In addition to authorizing projects, the bill changes how future projects must seek funding. It sets specific time and cost limits for studies on potential projects, eliminates redundant Army Corps of Engineers reviews and speeds up environmental reviews.

The bill also increases spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to pay for port improvements and creates a five-year pilot program to provide loans and loan guarantees for various projects.

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