Whitehouse Scores Wins for Rhode Island in Water Infrastructure Bill
Senator’s provisions to advance hurricane barrier upgrades, marine debris cleanup, river dredging, and protection for electricity customers clear Congress
Washington, DC – Today, the Senate passed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, to improve waterways, harbors, and drinking water infrastructure and support U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in Rhode Island championed by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The bill also includes legislation cosponsored by Whitehouse to give the public greater say in decisions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that raise rates for electricity customers.
“Rhode Island needs strong, safe, resilient water and coastal infrastructure to protect us from threats like hurricanes and sea level rise, and to keep commerce flowing in our coastal economy,” said Whitehouse. “This bill will help with important water infrastructure projects throughout Rhode Island, and also give electricity consumers a chance to speak out against unfair rate increases. Those are important wins for our state.”
Whitehouse is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where he helped to draft the Senate version of the bill. The version that passed today is the product of House-Senate negotiations and has already cleared the House. It now goes to the president to be signed into law.
The bill includes Whitehouse’s provisions to require the Army Corps to:
- Study the resiliency of hurricane barriers in the North Atlantic – like the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier in Providence – that are under threat from rising sea levels and stronger storm surge.
- Study the use of innovative building materials, like Rhode Island composites, in water infrastructure projects, and recommend in which Army Corps projects those materials could be used.
- Study the extent to which the Corps made use of its broader authority to clean up waterways littered with marine debris, like the deteriorating wooden pilings in the Providence River. In 2016, Whitehouse succeeded in including a provision in a 2016 water infrastructure bill to expand the Army Corps’ authority to remove debris and other obstructions from the nation’s waterways.
- Expedite completion of important projects and studies in Rhode Island, like the Providence River dredging project and the Rhode Island historical structure flood hazard vulnerability assessment.
Also included in the bill is legislation introduced by Whitehouse and U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to increase transparency and accountability at FERC. Under current law, if FERC votes on electricity rates end in a tie, the proposed rates go into effect automatically with no input from the public. The Whitehouse-Markey-Warren provision will allow the public to protest a change in their rate even if the commission vote is a tie. Passage of this legislation continues Whitehouse’s fight to protect electricity consumers from unreasonable rate increases.
In addition to Whitehouse’s provisions, the bill reauthorizes funding for dam safety projects, financing to states under the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, and creates a new innovative financing option for water infrastructure projects, the SRF WIN Act, of which Whitehouse is a cosponsor.
This legislation’s passage follows a string of legislative and appropriation successes for Whitehouse during the 115th Congress, including:
- $30 million for the National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund to support work that helps Americans understand and adapt to forces like sea level rise, severe storms, and other coastal hazards.
- Bipartisan legislation to spur investment in next-generation carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies, putting a dollar value on reducing carbon pollution driving climate change.
- Whitehouse’s legislation to extend permanently vital foreclosure protection for servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
- $350 million to forgive student loan debt for teachers, first responders, social workers and others in public service, which was based on Whitehouse’s legislation to fix a glitch in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
- Bipartisan legislation to increase collaboration between private industry, universities, and national laboratories in developing and bringing to market advanced nuclear technologies.
- Bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), making important improvements to the way we treat young people in our criminal justice system.
- Bipartisan legislation to address the marine debris epidemic affecting America’s oceans, shorelines, and inland waterways, as well as other coasts across the globe.
- Bipartisan legislation to help behavioral health care providers – like psychologists and psychiatric hospitals – adopt electronic health records.
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