Rep. Huffman Votes Against Flawed, Divisive House Republican Water Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Ranking Democrat on the Water, Power, and Oceans Subcommittee today led the Democratic effort to oppose a divisive, flawed, and cynical House Republican water bill on the floor of the House of Representatives. In contrast to Huffman’s Drought Relief and Resilience Act, today’s legislation, H.R. 2898, would do nothing to alleviate the effects of California’s record drought.
Republican leadership pushed the bill through Congress less than a month after introduction without holding a single legislative hearing on drought response alternatives in the 114th Congress. The bill passed the House on a nearly party-line vote of 245-176.
“We’re back today to consider yet another bill that harms West Coast fisheries and tribal interests, another bill that undermines state law, another bill that micromanages the most complex water system in the world in a way that benefits a select few at the expense of many others across the state of California—another bill that is going nowhere,” Huffman said. “If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would just give up on the idea of ramming the same divisive ideas through Congress every few months, we too, might be able to make some progress on solving water problems.”
Last month, Huffman introduced comprehensive legislation to respond to the worst drought in California state history, after first unveiling the draft legislation to the public and asking Californians to share comments and ideas to incorporate in the bill. Huffman’s bill, 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.
Huffman and his Democratic colleagues offered more than 20 amendments to the Republican drought bill in an effort to improve the bill and ensure that it does not hurt his Northern California constituents or other stakeholders throughout the state. However, all but four Democratic amendments were quickly rejected by the Republican Majority without even a vote.
Huffman’s opening statement during floor debate can be viewed HERE, and a transcript can be found below:
“Good morning Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim time in opposition and yield myself such time as I may consume. It was just last winter that we were here on the House floor talking about another so called drought bill that my Republican colleagues were attempting to slam through the House within just a few days of its introduction.
“This time the bill has a different title, but it’s pretty much the same bill. We’re back today to consider yet another bill that harms West Coast fisheries and tribal interests, another bill that undermines state law, another bill that micromanages the most complex water system in the world in a way that benefits a select few at the expense of many others across the state of California—another bill that is going nowhere.
“We have a SAP from the administration, we have a withering three page letter of opposition critiquing the bill from the Department of Interior. The two largest-circulation papers in California have both editorialized against it. The state of California is on record opposing prior versions of this bill. Now unlike last year, when the House did not allow any amendments to the bill, we’re here today with four out of five Republican amendments made in order and four out of twenty-four Democratic amendments made in order. That may seem like marginal progress over the 113th Congress’ very closed process, but that is no way to do business and certainly no way to get a bill signed into law. With something as complicated and important as California water we really should make sure everyone has a say, and that’s what Democrats have attempted to do.
“We have introduced a drought response bill—H.R. 2983 — which is a comprehensive drought bill. It brings everyone to the table. This bill had six weeks of public review before even being formally introduced, resulting in substantial crowdsourced changes to the bill. Our water future deserves that kind of open debate and real solutions. I have been joined by 34 cosponsors on that bill because it provides both short and long-term investments in water supply reliability, the kind of tools that all Western states will need.
“My bill includes significant resources to support farm workers and others who are out of work, not just lip-service. And I submit that if my Republican colleagues really care about the challenges faced by farm workers and others affected by this drought, they will join us in backing real solutions that provide meaningful assistance, in addition to stretching our limited water supplies.
“Our bill is supported by the association of California water agencies, California sanitation agencies, numerous other water agencies, environmental groups, and stakeholders. And both the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Chronicle have editorialized in favor of the Democratic alternative drought response bill and opposed to the bill we are considering here today.
“Mr. Chairman, let’s have some hearings. Despite the importance of this issue we have held no legislative hearings on drought responses in the 114th Congress. Not on the Majority’s bill, not on my alternative. Let’s have hearings on both bills. Let’s see which one produces the most water, which one produces that water more quickly and which one produces it more cost-effectively and more reliably. I hope that someday, Mr. Chairman, we’ll be discussing real water solutions in that spirit: vetted in an open hearing that can actually produce something that’ll be signed into law instead of the same tired divisive ideas that pit our states’ water users against each other.
“Now, a lot of people have asked me, ‘Why do your Republican colleagues refuse to have serious hearings on their water proposal?’ and I think the answer is pretty clear. Like its predecessors, we are here considering a bill that when it is exposed to public scrutiny, simply falls apart.
“Here’s what the Department of Interior said last week in a letter to our committee, in lieu of testimony of course, because there was no legislative hearing on the bill. They said, and I quote,
‘Instead of increasing water supplies, H.R. 2898 dictates operational decisions and imposes an additional new legal standard; instead of saving water, this could actually limit water supplies by creating new and confusing conflicts with existing laws, thereby adding and unnecessary layer of complexity to state and federal project operations. As a result to this additional standard, we believe H.R. 2898 will slow decision-making, generate significant litigation, and limit the real time operational flexibility that’s so critical to maximizing water delivery.’
“Although the Pacific Fisheries Management Council wasn’t given an opportunity to actually testify on this bill, again because we had no hearings, they opposed last-year’s version. And they wrote to us this week to say that they are on record on what appears to be similar legislation.
“Specifically, they’re concerned about the bill’s provisions that redirect water away from salmon habitat. The closure of the West Coast salmon fishery in 2008 and 2009 required 158 million dollars in federal disaster relief and sadly the rules committee did not allow a vote on our amendment to require a full Pacific Fisheries Management Council review of this legislation.
“There’s no question that this bill explicitly preempts state water law and it waves and weakens the application of bedrock federal environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act and NEPA, but the Rules Committee did not allow a vote on my amendment to protect California water law from preemption nor my amendment to strengthen the water rights protection in the bill.
“It seems that the issue of states’ rights is simply an inconvenient subject when it comes to Republican water legislation. Mr. Chairman, water’s a complex subject, but it doesn’t have to be partisan combat. It doesn’t have to scapegoat environmental laws or pit one region against the other in a zero-sum game.
“I chaired the California Assembly’s Water Committee during the last drought in 2009, and we did it the right way; we held lots of hearings, we brought interests from all over the state together and in the end, although it was a lot of work, through that deliberative transparent process, we produced comprehensive water legislation that was supported by Republicans and Democrats from all corners of the state. Last year, Mr. Chairman, a near-unanimous California legislature agreed on a multi-billion dollar Water Bond that has created significant water reforms in full public view.
“If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would just give up on the idea of ramming the same divisive ideas through Congress every few months, we too, might be able to make some progress on solving water problems. I reserve the balance of my time.”