WASHINGTON — In a rare display of bipartisanship on major legislation, the Senate passed a bill Wednesday to move forward on a variety of water infrastructure projects throughout the country.
The Water Resources Development Act, the first law of its kind in six years, would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with flood control efforts, port improvements, wetlands restoration and coastal storm protection.
The $12.5 billion bill drew overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans. The vote was 83-14. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who sponsored the legislation, told colleagues that she was gratified.
“This type of a bill is not easy to get through,” Boxer said. “Every state has its own needs. We were able to meet the needs of the entire country.”
Boxer praised the work of her staff and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, her Republican counterpart on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which she chairs. Vitter, a conservative who’s often at odds with Boxer, called her a “great partner.”
“We can come together on the infrastructure side of our committee,” he said.
The bill faces less certain prospects in the House of Representatives. Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who leads the House Transportation Committee, is expected to bring up the legislation soon.
Rep. Doris Matsui, a Democrat who represents California’s flood-prone capital, Sacramento, said it was her colleagues’ turn to act. Matsui and Boxer have long sought federal funds to strengthen Sacramento’s levee system to protect the region from the kind of destruction that resulted when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans.
“The Senate has provided a good starting point, as well as a good example of cooperation,” Matsui said in a statement. “Working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know we can do the same in the House.”
The bill includes language that would expedite the environmental review process that many critics say leads to unnecessary delays and added costs in such projects. But it drew objections from environmental groups and the White House, which argued that it would undercut long-standing environmental laws. After the vote, some voiced their disappointment.
“Unfortunately, language in this bill undermines the bedrock environmental principle that the federal government should look before it leaps,” Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement.
“This bill must be fixed before the president signs it into law,” he added.
The bill had strong backing from numerous business and labor groups. Kurt Nagle, president of the Association of American Port Authorities, offered praise, noting that America’s ports planned to invest $46 billion in improvements over five years. The Corps of Engineers would do much of the work, including dredging harbors and deepening shipping channels, and Nagle said the bill would get that moving.
“Increased investments are needed to better maintain and improve the transportation infrastructure on our three coasts and the Great Lakes,” he said. “We need the federal government to uphold its end of the partnership.”