House Republicans pass drought relief bill despite veto threat
WASHINGTON, July 16, 2015 - House Republicans ignored a White House veto threat and passed a drought relief bill that's sure to face staunch opposition in the Senate. The vote was 245-176 with only five Democrats voting for approval.
The Western Water and American Food Security Act (HR 2898) - introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif. - is the GOP's legislative answer to the four-year drought plaguing California, especially its agriculturally rich Central Valley.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who hails from the Golden State, rejected the notion “that our way of life has to change, that it's time to focus on conservation above all and manage our decline.”
Instead, he said, Californians have found a solution to their water storage issue with this bill, as it will speed up work on building new reservoirs and direct federal agencies to pump more water from the delta formed by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to drought-stricken, agricultural areas.
The bill is heading to the Senate where California Democrats Dianne Feinstein, a vocal opponent of the House bill, is expected to pose new drought legislation and Barbara Boxer has a bill - Water in the 21st Century (S 176) - already pending.
If the House bill were to advance to President Barack Obama's desk, the White House said he would veto it.
The White House said the bill would violate the Endangered Species Act and result in costly litigation. It also asserted that the measure would preempt state law and needlessly undermine the economic viability of commercial and tribal fisheries along the West Coast.
The legislation was passed with six amendments, including one offered by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., that would prioritize the eradication of an invasive weed called the water hyacinth that obstructs waterways and the function of municipal pumping stations.
Another, posed by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., would expedite work on the Sites Reservoir project, a large off-stream reservoir in the Sacramento Valley.
While the Interior Department and a number of sportsmen's and wildlife conservation groups have written letters opposing the bill, other organizations are pleased with its passage out of the House.
Robert Guenther, senior vice president of pubic policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, applauded the House's action in a press release, calling it a recognition of the drought's “devastating economic and environmental impact” on “struggling growers and farmers” in the Central Valley.
The valley's farms and orchards lead the nation in produce production, Guenther said, and the state grows half of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S., according to McCarthy.
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