Stop-gap funding for the Central Utah Project is being caught up in a sort of Ping-Pong game between the U.S. Senate and House.
The House served first. It approved $45.5 million in funds for the project last month. The Senate later approved that, but added another $18 million to settle some legal disputes the project faces. So the amended bill was then sent back to the House for approval.Late Thursday, the House approved the Senate amendments - but decided to add some more of its own, which means it now goes back to the Senate again.
The House turned the CUP bill into a "pack horse bill," where other bills are tacked onto it in hopes their attachment to a relatively non-controversial bill will help them sail through Congress.
The three items tacked onto the CUP bill Thursday have virtually nothing to do with the CUP. One would expand the boundaries of the John Muir Historic Site in California; one would provide some river bank stabilization along part of the Missouri River in Nebraska; and one would prohibit expansion of any dams within Yosemite National Park in California.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, had said he knew the CUP bill would be turned into a pack horse, but was assured by House leadership that nothing would be attached that would threaten the bill's ultimate passage.
But the congressional Ping-Pong has some CUP officials worried. For example, Robert B. Hilbert, chairman of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, which delivers water from completed CUP facilities, has said he worries Congress could adjourn for the election season before the bill is approved.
The CUP has gone through a tumultuous year in trying to obtain funding.
Owens introduced a bill that originally called for $754 million for the project. But disagreements among water users, public power companies, environmentalists and others about what portions of the project should survive and how to finance them almost killed the bill when it was before the House Interior Committee.
After the groups agreed to try to work out their differences during the upcoming year, the House agreed to provide $45 million in stop-gap funding to keep the project alive for that interim period.
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, then added $18 million more when the bill reached the Senate to fund a settlement with the Strawberry Water Users Association for grazing and other claims it had on land around and under Strawberry Reservoir.
That settlement, if made final, would give management of 56,775 acres for grazing, recreation and wildlife to the U.S. Forest Service.
Another controversy that arose over work on the bill were charges filed by Utah Republican Party Chairman Craig Moody that Owens violated House ethics rules when he used a Utah Power & Light lobbyist to help draft the CUP bill, which contained provisions municipal power agencies said were detrimental.
The House Ethics Committee later dismissed that complaint because of technical irregularities in it and because it had too little time to consider it before Congress adjourns.