Federal drought bill dead in water until 2015

Federal drought bill dead in water until 2015


feinstein-obamaBetter and wetter luck next year, California.

On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., put the kibosh on passing a federal water bill dealing with California’s drought during the lame-duck session. She wrote in a statement:

“Over the past several weeks I have been working closely with members of the California delegation who expressed interest in reaching a bipartisan agreement on legislation to address California’s drought crisis without violating the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act or biological opinions. 

“Although we have made progress, it has become clear that we will be unable to present an agreed-upon proposal before Congress adjourns this year.” 

That evaporated any chance in the U.S. Congress of a much-needed water bill for California for now. Any reforms will have to wait until the new session begins in January, when Republicans take over control of the Senate from Democrats, while keeping control of the House.

Any bill from Republicans still would have to gain a 60-vote Senate majority to avoid a filibuster. Depending on the fate of the Dec. 6 election between Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and GOP challenger Bill Cassidy, Republicans will have 54 or 55 senators, with Democrats 45 or 46. So five or six Democrat still will be needed to pass any bill.

But being in the majority puts Republicans in the catbird’s seat on crafting a California water bill in the Senate. And given that the state’s two Democratic senators, Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, now shift from powerful majority positions to the minority, Republicans from other states will be calling the shots in the Senate.

Kevin McCarthy

Retaining power from California is Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the second-ranking member in the House. So California still will have clout on water – just from a Republican perspective.

Also, any bill still would have to gain a signature from President Obama, who since the Nov. 4 election has shown himself combative, such as his immigration executive order he announced Thursday. That gives the Democratic minority in both houses leverage over the bills.

The meetings and phone conferences between both parties to reach a compromise bill have been shrouded in secrecy.  On Nov. 19 the Los Angeles Times even ran an editorial asking, “Why are U.S. lawmakers making Cal water deals in secret?”

The same day, a Sacramento Bee editorial sounded a similar alarm, “Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Republicans have been secretly negotiating drought relief legislation that could severely alter California water policy.”

While most Senate hearing and committee proceedings are open to the public, the Senate reserves the right to close a meeting or hearing.  What has scared environmentalists is a statement by Feinstein on May 19, that environmentalists “have never been helpful to me in producing good water policy.”

But there haven’t been any real hearings or committee meetings going on about the water bill. Instead, what have been going on are normal discussions by email and phone conferences and meetings between senators’ staffs.

Executive Director of Restore the Delta, Barrigan-Parilla responded to Feinstein, according to the IndyMedia Network on Nov. 20:

“Sen. Feinstein is rushing through legislation to aid these growers at the expense of the rest of California. Right now, the head of Westlands Water District is helping write legislation for a massive water grab sponsored by Sen. Feinstein. Californians should be on red alert.” 


In her Nov. 20 statement, Feinstein responded to the allegation that secrecy dominated the water bill:

“Claims that this has been some kind of secret process are false. In order to come up with a bill that is ready for public comment, back-and-forth negotiations and consultations are often necessary, including extensive technical assistance from federal and state agencies. That process is ongoing and we have no agreed-upon bill at this time.”

Feinstein also said the bill “wasn’t about corporate agriculture.”

The starting point in January will be the bill the Republican House already passed. As McClatchy reported on Nov. 20 from Washington:

“Responding to the state’s devastating drought, the GOP-controlled House passed a far-reaching bill in February on a largely party line 229-191 vote.

“Introduced by freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., and drawing largely on a bill previously introduced by Nunes, the House bill rolls back a landmark 1992 law that directed more water to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The bill removes wild-and-scenic protections from a half mile of the Merced River, and it authorizes new water-storage projects on locations that include the Upper San Joaquin River, among other provisions.” 

The author of the original bill was Rep. David Nunes, R-Calif., a key Central Valley congressman. According to McClatchy, he said of Feinstein and other Democrats in Congress come January, “We’ll continue to try to work together.”

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