Rep. Huffman Opposes Divisive, Cynical House Republican Water Bill

July 09, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Ranking Democrat on the Water, Power, and Oceans Subcommittee today led the effort to oppose a divisive, flawed, and cynical House Republican water bill that does not create new water and would do nothing to alleviate the effects of California’s record drought.

Huffman offered a series of amendments to protect salmon fishing jobs, to protect tribal jobs, to protect water deliveries on the Trinity River and Humboldt county and downstream interests, and to support the San Joaquin River restoration settlement, which ended years of litigation, and was supported by farmers, the Bush administration, the state of California, and a coalition of environmental, fishing, and downstream interests.

“This bill is a warmed-over redux of the same divisive, partisan legislation that has gotten us nowhere for years,” Huffman said. “Let’s stop the political theater and get serious about solving problems and responding to the Western drought.”

Earlier this week, Huffman introduced comprehensive legislation to respond to the worst drought in California state history. Last month, Huffman unveiled the draft legislation to the public and asked Californians to share comments and ideas to incorporate in the bill. The bill Huffman introduced in the House, the Drought Relief and Resilience Act, reflects the feedback of nearly 1,000 Californians from San Diego to Crescent City, Fresno to San Francisco, as well as farmers, environmentalists, fishermen, urban and rural Californians, and water managers throughout the country.

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Huffman’s full statement can be found below:

“Well Mr. Chairman, here we go again.  Not too long ago we were talking about another so-called drought bill introduced by House Republicans that had never been considered in a hearing, that would harm West Coast fisheries and tribal interests, undermine state law, and micromanage the water systems in California in a way that will benefit a select few at the expense of many others across the state.   

“I’m sorry to say that some things, it seems, never change.  Like the last several House Republican drought bills, H.R. 2898 was crafted behind closed doors, with no public review or transparency, no outreach to tribal interests, the West Coast fishing industry, or state and federal water agencies with responsibility for clean water and fisheries management. The bill does not reflect the collective wisdom of the state’s many and varied water districts, nor did they authors solicit input from me or other members of Congress that collectively represent millions of people who will be harmed by this bill. 

"Instead, once again, we have a bill that redistributes water to one set of users in one region of the state, primarily to benefit a small number of large industrial farming operations in the San Joaquin Valley at the expense of millions of others. 

"Now we’ve heard some talk about how we need to pass this bill to address farm job losses, including in this bill’s findings section, which cites an outdated, incorrect estimate of farm job losses last year.  But facts are stubborn things.    The fact is that farm employment in the Central Valley remains near an all-time high, with far fewer job losses than the less severe drought in 2009. Agricultural waters are up, employment overall is up, and unemployment is finally declining to single-digits in most of the Valley.

"Yes, some communities are hurting, but they have been hurting long before this drought. Many of these communities experienced double digit unemployment during the Great Recession and the housing crisis. Where were my Republican colleagues when these communities were hurting then? Voting against the stimulus and economic assistance to those in need then, and today they are still fighting to block a high-speed rail system that will bring economic opportunity to the Valley. My friend and colleague Jim Costa has been working tirelessly to bring resources and attention to the San Joaquin Valley his entire career, but it seems like Republicans only notice these economically devastated communities when they decide to hold a rushed markup, or need a backdrop for a press conference on Fox News.

"With that said, I welcome a conversation about jobs.  I certainly agree that the drought has caused hardships in the agricultural sector.  But there are other jobs at stake here, and provisions in this bill will gut fishery protections that are essential for thousands of fishing jobs across the West Coast, in California and Oregon and all the way to Washington state and Alaska.  This bill threatens other jobs in the fish processing industry, the restaurant industry, and the tourism industry. 

"The people who hold these jobs perhaps are not as politically connected in Washington and don’t employ teams of federal lobbyists like some of the special interests pushing for this bill, but they are hard-working people and their jobs matter too.  We last had a closure of the West Coast salmon fishery in 2008 and 2009, which required $158 million in disaster relief from Congress.  Passing this bill will make another devastating closure in the near future much more likely. 

"In addition to gutting fishery protections, this bill will repeal 20 years of environmental protections under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, and will repeal the court ordered and legally binding San Joaquin Restoration Settlement Act that was the result of many years of collaborative work between the state, the federal government, fishing and environmental interests, and the farmers who receive water from the Friant unit of the CVP. This bill will absolutely cause more legal uncertainty for local communities, preempt state water law, and waive or weaken the application of other bedrock environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. 

“In short, H.R. 2898 would set a breathtaking standard of environmental disregard, state preemption, and a stunning indifference to the thousands whose jobs will be threatened by this legislation if enacted.

“The scope of harmful provisions included in this bill is matched only by the number of necessary provisions left out. If enacted, H.R. 2898 will do nothing to prevent the hundreds of billions of gallons of water loss per year by utilities simply because of aging and inefficient infrastructure. 

“It will do nothing to capture the hundreds of billions of gallons of wastewater discharged every year and lost forever that could be treated and reused for agriculture, industry, even drinking water.  We are reusing a measly 13% of municipal wastewater in California.  There is absolutely nothing in this bill to increase these numbers.

“This bill will do nothing to solve California's water problems through a thoughtful, science-based, stakeholder-inclusive process.

“This bill will destroy local economies, it will pit regions and industries against each other, and it will harm the environment.

“This bill is cynical and embarrassing and we should pull it from consideration and actually work on something that will help not just a few, but all parts of California and the West that are impacted by this historic drought. 

“At the very least, the first step for this bill should have been a public hearing, so we could have considered the views of statewide and national organizations with an interest in water policy.

“For example, we could have invited testimony from the Association of California Water Agencies, the California Association of Sanitation Agencies, the California Water Environment Association, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the Water Environment Federation, the Western Recycled Water Coalition, or the WateReuse Association.

“All of those water trade associations support my bill — which has been circulating publicly for weeks.

“There is room to work together on these issues to develop truly bipartisan legislation that involves all interested parties in an open process. 

“A near-unanimous California Legislature agreed on a multibillion-dollar water bond measure last year, and has crafted significant water reforms in full public view. This is possible in Congress, too, if my House Republican colleagues give up on the idea of ramming through divisive legislation that will never be signed into law.

“I stand ready to work across the aisle on real solutions that will grow our water supply and not simply reignite California’s water wars.  

“With that I yield back.”