House Passes California Water Bill Over Governor Brown's Objections

House Passes California Water Bill Over Governor Brown's Objections

HOUSE PASSES CA WATER BILL OVER BROWN'S OBJECTIONS: The ongoing drought in California has sparked yet another new skirmish in the longstanding war between the Golden State's pro-environmental forces and its pro-business agricultural interests. Last Wednesday, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved HR 3964 [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], a bill that would, among several things, roll back state environmental protections and halt ongoing river restorations in order to send more water from Northern California to parched Central Valley farms. The measure passed predominantly along party lines, with Democrats almost universally opposed.

It moves to the Senate, where its chances are highly suspect. The White House has also indicated it would likely veto the bill if it makes it to the president's desk.

Although the bill is likely to go nowhere in the Senate, it still drew an angry reaction from California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who prior to the vote sent the House Natural Resources Committee's ranking members a testy letter calling the measure "an unwelcome and divisive intrusion" into the state's efforts to manage what he called "the worst water crisis in our modern history." He said the measure would actually do nothing to ease the state's water situation, noting his administration and lawmakers are already working on a multi-pronged water management plan that includes greater emphasis on storage, conservation and recycling.

"[The House bill] would override state laws and protections, and mandate that certain water interests come out ahead of others," Brown wrote. "It falsely suggests the promise of water relief when that is simply not possible given the scarcity of water supplies."

Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento, noted the unusually firm nature of Brown's stance.

"I don't think it's an overreaction because of the precedent [the bill] would set," she told the Christian Science Monitor. "What would that signal to Washington about issues such as transportation and air quality? It's a state's rights issue, not a federal issue. It ignores a lot of thoughtful discussion about rationing and voluntary water use, and it would really annoy people."

California's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, also railed against the bill, calling it "another irresponsible proposal that puts politics ahead of the needs of California."

California is now in its third straight year of extremely low rainfall, prompting Brown on Jan. 17 to declare a drought. Other measures are in the works as well, including legislation being crafted by Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D) that would fast track water recycling and stormwater reuse projects around the state. Feinstein and fellow Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) are also working on a drought relief proposal in the Senate. (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, SACRAMENTO BEE, LOS ANGELES TIMES, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK)

BUSINESS: The UNITED STATES Senate approves legislation that would delay by four years the implementation of a 2012 federal law that requires homeowners living in designated flood planes to pay a greater portion of the cost of insuring their homes against a flood event (See "Congress struggles to find balance in flood insurance reform" in the Nov. 18, 2013 SNCJ). The measure moves to the House of Representatives (TAMPA BAY TIMES).

— Compiled by RICH EHISEN

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