House passes bill to simplify dam permits
GOP-led measure to expedite process for water storage projects is largely approved along party lines.
WASHINGTON — Dam permits would be funneled through a single federal agency in an effort to speed up new water storage projects under a bill that passed the House on Thursday.
Sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove), the 233-180 vote was largely along partisan lines. Reps. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and six other Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the bill.
McClintock said the local, state and federal agencies that must sign off on new projects don’t have to communicate or set deadlines, and often require redundant information from permit applicants, which can make the application process drag on for years and drive up costs.
“Dam applications can go on endlessly,” McClintock said after the vote. “A lot of these projects become cost prohibitive.”
He pointed to a dam project proposed by the town of Foresthill in his district as an example. Conflicting demands from several federal agencies about a plan to install a spillway gate on the dam at the Sugar Pine Reservoir have driven up the cost, he said. The project application is still under review.
“So a $2-million project that was a heavy lift for a little community, but within reach, becomes an $11-million cost-prohibitive boondoggle,” McClintock said.
Under the bill, the Bureau of Reclamation would coordinate with other federal agencies on all aspects of a dam application and set deadlines for deciding whether to approve a project.
Democrats who voted against the bill said the bureau would be able to set arbitrary deadlines for the attimes lengthy environmental reviews required for water projects, which could undermine reviews required by laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.
“Fixing the process isn’t just about saving some headaches or a few hours of time. This is about making sure millions of people in California and across America have the water they need and deserve,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield).
Sen. John Barrasso (RWyo.) has filed similar legislation in the Senate, and McClintock said he is cautiously optimistic it will pass.
REP. Tom McClintock sponsored the bill to keep projects from becoming a costly “boondoggle.”