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House leaders vow action on WRDA this fall

The House's version of a major water policy bill is slated to be marked up when Congress returns from recess in September, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) announced this afternoon.

Shuster had originally hoped to mark up his bill before Congress left town but was widely believed to be waiting for guaranteed floor time before moving the measure. The schedule announced today has received the support of House leadership, the committee said in a release.

The chairman has long promised a reform-heavy measure, and to emphasize that he has added the word to the bill's title, making it the "Water Resources Reform and Development Act" (WRRDA).

"This legislation will contain no earmarks and will make major reforms to increase transparency, accountability, and Congressional oversight in reviewing and prioritizing future water resources development activities," Shuster said in a statement. "WRRDA will cut federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamline the project delivery process, promote fiscal responsibility, and strengthen our water transportation networks to promote American competitiveness, prosperity, and economic growth."

Shuster faced a major challenge in crafting a bill under Congress' ban on earmarks. WRDA bills have historically been composed of a long list of earmarks.

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The Senate's $12 billion WRDA bill passed in May avoids earmarks by automatically authorizing projects that meet a certain set of criteria, but Shuster contends that this approach cedes congressional authority to the executive branch (Greenwire, May 15).

In today's release, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated that he is pleased with the approach Shuster has settled on.

"Chairman Shuster and Chairman Gibbs have done a great job developing a water resources bill focused on major policy reforms -- and without earmarks," Boehner said. "I look forward to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee moving a bill that addresses our infrastructure needs in a fiscally responsible manner."

Controversial environmental streamlining provisions that passed in the Senate's bill over objections from environmental groups and the White House are likely to be in the House's bill.

"We are literally studying infrastructure projects to death," said T&I Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio). "While it once took the Corps of Engineers three to five years to complete a study, it has now become the norm for this process to take 10 to 15 years."

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