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JV_BOXER 017.JPGIt seemed like it could be a slam-dunk in a Congress that can't agree on much of anything.

But California Sen. Barbara Boxer's bipartisan effort to pass legislation to fund flood control, navigation and storm recovery projects hit a snag Monday when the White House issued a statement highly critical of the bill, which Boxer's Environment and Public Works Committee approved unanimously in March.

The Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes projects such as the Natomas Levee Improvement Program, was expected to move to the Senate floor for debate Tuesday, but the fate of some of its more controversial provisions wasn't clear. Committee staff said Monday night that amending language would be announced Tuesday to address concerns about the bill, and noted that the White House statement did not actually oppose its broader goals.

The White House said it was "deeply concerned" about language in the bill that would fast-track environmental reviews for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects. Critics, especially Republicans, say that such studies take far too long and burden communities with government bureaucracy. But environmentalists say the process is necessary to protect communities, the environment and taxpayer funds.

The White House said the Senate version of the Water Resources Development Act "would weaken Congressional involvement and transparency in the authorization of Corps studies and construction projects."

"The bill constrains science based decision making, increases litigation risk, and undermines the integrity of several foundational environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act," the White House statement said.

Boxer's language was designed to appeal to Republicans - all of them on Boxer's committee approved the bill, including ranking Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, a conservative who typically agrees with Boxer on little else.

However, it didn't sit well with some Democrats. Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote Boxer last month to ask that the offending language be removed.

Assuming the bill gets through the Democrat-controlled Senate - it needs 60 votes - it will face an even tougher audience in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Rep. Doris Matsui, a Sacramento Democrat who is a leading supporter of the legislation in the House, said in a statement that she was optimistic that the Senate would approve the bill and praised Boxer's effort.

"Senator Boxer has shown outstanding leadership in reaching a bipartisan solution to our nation's pressing infrastructure challenges," Matsui said.

PHOTO CREDIT: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer meets with the Sacramento Bee's editorial board in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas


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