Wednesday, April 25, 2007

American Rivers Policy Update April 16

1) Week in Review

On Tuesday the House of Representatives passed several non-controversial water related bills under suspension of the rules. After many years of inaction by the Committee on Resources, H.R. 886, the Wild Sky Wilderness Act, sponsored by Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), was finally passed by the full House and now heads to the Senate. This bill would set aside 106,000 acres of low-elevation, old-growth forest in Washington's Mount Barker-Snoqualmie National Forest as wilderness. The bill would also protect about 25 miles of salmon streams in western Washington. Also passed was H.R. 609, sponsored by Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), a bill to authorize the secretary of the Interior Department to participate in the Central Texas Water Recycling and Reuse Project and H.R. 786, sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), to authorize the secretary of the Interior to participate in the Los Angeles County Water Supply Augmentation Demonstration Project.

H.R. 986, the Eightmile Wild and Scenic River Act of 2007, was considered in a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and cosponsored by the entire Connecticut delegation, would designate certain segments of the Eightmile River in Connecticut as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The subcommittee also passed the bill last week and now heads to the full committee. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) is the sponsor of a companion bill in the Senate, S. 553.

Last week American Rivers released the America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2007 report, and annual publication that highlights rivers facing critical and near-term threats. For more information please visit www.AmericanRivers.org/endangeredrivers.

Also last week Peter Raabe, Policy Director of Budget and Appropriations at American Rivers testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. Mr. Raabe testified on the need for additional federal funding in Fiscal Year 2008 for the Open Rivers Initiative and Wild and Scenic Rivers.

2) Water Resources Development Act passes the House of Representatives

On Thursday, April 19th the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1495, the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA) by a vote of 394-25. The House passed bill contains more than 700 Army Corps of Engineers projects for navigation, flood control and environmental restoration. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the final cost of the bill to be $13.2 billion through 2022, while the White House estimates it to be at least $15 billion.

An important Corps reform amendment was one of the five amendments that passed by voice-vote during floor consideration. Sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Thomas Petri (R-WI) the amendment requires the Army Corps of Engineers to update the principles and guidelines (P&G) that guide the Corps in considering environmental impacts, evaluating costs and benefits, and selecting project alternatives. Environmentalists and taxpayer groups contend that the existing P&G lead to archaic, poorly planned projects that destroy rivers and wetlands, waste tax dollars, and fail to protect communities. The House bill also contains controversial reform provisions addressing independent peer review of projects costing more than $50 million and wetlands mitigation. The environmental community supports the stronger Senate Corps reform provisions.

Another amendment by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) will create new funding authority for dam removal and rehabilitation within the Corps. It limits total annual funding to $25 million and $5 million per location. Initially, the amendment was designed to be national in scope and mirror language that is included in the Senate version of the bill, but it was altered to apply just in Illinois, the Congressman's home state. Differences in language between the two bills will need to be ironed out in conference between the two bodies after the Senate passes its version of the bill.

3) Hearings on the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Scheduled

This week committees of both the House and Senate will hold hearings on S. 752 and H.R 1462, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and Pathfinder Modification Authorization Act of 2007. The Platte River, located in the Rocky Mountain-High Plains region, plays an essential role in defining the character of the region ecologically and in sustaining the economy but environmental values have been overlooked in the past. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program would reestablish a riverine/land habitat complex to meet the needs of endangered species in the area. The bills, which are sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), would authorize the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement, which was signed at the end of 2006 by the Secretary of Interior and the governors of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. The program is the product of several years of negotiations between the states, the Department of the Interior, water users, and environmentalists. The Water and Power Subcommittee on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on a number of water related bills including S. 752 on Wednesday, April 25, while the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power will address H.R. 1462 on Thursday, April 26.

Hearing: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power on Wednesday, April 25 at 2:30 PM in 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Hearing: House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power on Thursday, April 26 at 2:00 PM in 1324 Longworth House Office Building

4) Congressional Calendar

Thursday, April 26, 2007
Hearing on alternative fuels
House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality 10:00AM, 2123 Rayburn House Office Building

Hearing on climate change
House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Interior and Environment 9:30 AM, B-308 Rayburn House Office Building

Hearing on H.R. 1462, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and Pathfinder Modification Authorization Act House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power 2:00 PM, 1324 Longworth House Office Building

Hearing on current National Parks legislation Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks 2:30 PM, 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Hearing on conservation policy recommendations for the Farm Bill Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry 2:00 PM 328A Russell Senate Office Building

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