Federal Water Tap, March 14, Part I: I’m Just a Bill, Sitting in Committee

A few of the water-related bills introduced so far in the 112th Congress:

Stop Asian Carp Act: H.R. 892/S. 471
Introduced by Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.), the bill, which has bi-partisan support, would require the Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of separating the watersheds of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes in order to keep out invasive species such as Asian carp. Not naturally enjoined, the two water systems were connected in the early twentieth century by a canal that reversed the flow of the Chicago River. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2011: H.R. 855
This bill would withdraw from mining claims more than a million acres of federal land abutting Grand Canyon National Park. It is sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who introduced the same bill the last two sessions of Congress without it becoming law.

Endocrine Disruptor Screening Enhancement Act of 2011
: H.R. 553
Sterility, premature puberty, disjointed male-female sex ratios, and cancer. These are some of the effects of a class of substances that alter the hormonal function of the endocrine system. This bill, introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to require drinking water supplies be tested for certain disruptors. The Environmental Protection Agency would be responsible for determining which substances to monitor.

Small-Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act of 2011
: H.R. 795
Introduced by Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), the bill would exempt hydropower projects with a generating capacity less than one and a half megawatts from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitting process. Typically, projects of this scale are placed in existing water conduits and seek to capture some of the energy of the moving water.

Dry-Redwater Regional Water Authority System Act of 2011: S. 419
Montana’s Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester are co-sponsoring this piece of legislation to authorize the federal government to build a water supply project for 15,000 geographically-dispersed residents in rural Montana and North Dakota. The six counties to be supplied by the water system cover an area roughly equal to New Hampshire. The bill appropriates $115 million for planning, design and construction of 1,200 miles of pipeline, 38 pumping stations and 20 reservoirs. Included is a mandate for the federal government to pay 75 percent of the total cost. The Bureau of Reclamation questioned the cost estimates and power requirements included in a 2009 version of the bill that did not make it out of committee.

Michigan Emulates British Colonial Rule in India
This space generally covers federal water activities, but a state government has advanced legislation too noteworthy to neglect. Michigan’s Republican-majority House and Senate have passed versions of a bill that will give the governor power to impose “financial martial law”, as one state senator put it. The governor would be allowed to declare a “financial emergency” in towns or school districts and appoint an administrator to manage the situation. The governor can make the declaration based on any one of 18 criteria listed in the bill, among them: a municipal debt rating falling below BBB equivalent; a deficit at the end of the fiscal year; a legislative resolution; late payment of wages; and the discretion of the state treasurer.

This “emergency manager” would have the power, unilaterally, to dissolve elected bodies, to de-charter cities and force them to declare bankruptcy, to break contracts and collective bargaining agreements and to sell public assets. The obvious connection for this column is that public water systems could be liquidated at the administrator’s fancy, but the ramifications of this bill for elected democracy spread far more broadly. The two legislative chambers will reconcile their versions this week. Newly-elected Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has indicated he will sign the bill.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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