House Committee approves water resources development bill

By Derrick Cain

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2013 - The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee easily approved, by voice vote, its water resources development act legislation (H.R. 3080) Thursday.

The committee made no significant changes to the bipartisan Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which would re-authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop, maintain, and support the nation's vital port and waterways infrastructure needs, and support effective and targeted flood protection and environmental restoration needs. 

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Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., told reporters he expects the full House to debate and vote on the bill during the week of Oct. 7.

“WRRDA is the most policy and reform focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades,” Shuster said. “This bill contains no earmarks and makes reforms needed to increase transparency, accountability, and Congressional oversight of federal water resources development. At its heart, WRRDA is about jobs and improving America's competitiveness.”

The legislation aims to cut federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamline the infrastructure project delivery process, promote fiscal responsibility, and strengthen aging water transportation networks.

Committee Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va, said the bill would boost the nation's ports and allow commodities to move more efficiently along the inland waterways.

Some of the bill highlights include:

  • Sets hard deadlines on the time and cost of project studies.
  • Consolidates or eliminates duplicative or unnecessary studies and requires concurrent reviews.
  • Streamlines environmental reviews.
  • De-authorizes $12 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to 2007.
  • Fully offsets new authorizations with de-authorizations.
  • Reforms and preserves the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
  • Reduces inventory of properties that are not needed for the missions of the Corps.
  • Establishes a new, transparent process for future bills to review and prioritize water resources development activities with congressional oversight.

The Senate approved its version of the reauthorization May 16 on a strong bipartisan 83-14 vote. The Senate's Water Resources Development Act (S. 601) seeks to authorize funding to modernize the nation's locks and dams, provide upkeep for rivers and coasts, assist with flood protection and restore key environmental areas.

The largest difference between the House and Senate bill is the House bill would require congressional approval for water-related projects while the Senate bill would leave approvals to the executive branch.

American Soybean Association president Danny Murphy applauded the committee's vote. “Today's unanimous vote by the House T&I Committee to pass the WRRDA bill is a very positive sign, and we call on the full House to take up and pass the WRRDA without delay,” Murphy said. “Soybeans are the nation's largest agricultural export, and approximately half of all soybeans grown domestically are sent overseas.”

Murphy said soybeans make up the largest share of the nation's farm exports, as well as the agricultural trade surplus.

Soybean farmers rely on a reliable network of waterways, locks, dams and ports to move our products from farm to market,” Murphy said. “Many links in that chain have been, and some are in danger of a catastrophic failure that would bring a stop to commerce.”

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