House committee introduces water resources development bill

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sep. 12, 2013 - The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released bipartisan legislation (H.R. 3080) Wednesday that 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. 

Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and ranking member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., unveiled the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), saying the bill would cut federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamline the infrastructure project delivery process, promote fiscal responsibility, and strengthen aging water transportation networks.

“WRRDA is the most policy and reform focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades,” Shuster said. “The bill contains no earmarks and makes major programmatic reforms to increase transparency, accountability, and congressional oversight of federal water resources development activities.”

Shuster said the legislation is about international competitiveness and job creation. “It's also about putting products on the shelf at the lowest possible price.”

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There has been no water resources development reauthorization since 2007, although historically, Congress would act on it about every two years.

“It boosts our ports, strengthens our maritime economy, and allows commodities to move more efficiently along our inland waterways, saving time and money,” Rahall said. “When we invest in these corridors of commerce, we are investing in a more competitive nation and enabling our water transportation network to support increased economic opportunity.”

Rahall stressed the bipartisan nature of the legislation and noted neither party got everything they wanted in the bill. He said he expects the committee to markup the legislation soon.

The bill would require the Corps to complete studies of waterway projects within 3 years and spend no more than $3 million. Currently, the study process has taken between 10 and 15 years for projects in many cases.

Some of the bill highlights include:

  • Consolidates or eliminates duplicative or unnecessary studies and requires concurrent reviews.
  • Streamlines environmental reviews.
  • De-authorizes $12 billion of inactive projects that were authorized before 2007.
  • Fully offsets new authorizations with de-authorizations.
  • Sunsets new authorizations to prevent future project backlogs.
  • Reduces the inventory of properties that are not needed for the missions of the Corps.
  • Establishes new, transparent process for future bills to review and prioritize water resources development activities with strong congressional oversight.

The House bill, which supporters say is backed by Republican leadership, comes after the Senate approved its version of the reauthorization May 16 on a strong bipartisan 83-14 vote.

The Water Resources Development Act (S. 601) would 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 Senate bill aims to promote investment in the nation's critical water resources infrastructure, accelerate project delivery, and reform the implementation of Corps projects. Supporters said the Senate bill would create up to 500,000 new jobs.

Shuster said his bill is quite similar to the Senate bill. One main difference he said is the Senate version allows the executive branch authority of choosing which projects to fund, while his bill requires congressional action to approve projects. “We did not cede one inch to the executive branch,” Shuster said.

The House bill ran into immediate trouble in the Senate when Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., railed against the legislation because it does not include a major, long-awaited hurricane and flood protection project in her state.

Landrieu took to the Senate floor last night and angrily denounced the House bill for not including authorization to build the Terrebonne's Morganza-to-the-Gulf system, a 72-mile system of levees, floodgates, and a lock on the Houma Navigation Canal. The project was first authorized in 1992, and the estimated cost is now close to $2 billion.

“If I could, I'd shut down every rig in the Gulf of Mexico until this United States Congress gives the people of Louisiana the money we need to keep ourselves safe from drowning, from flooding, and I'd turn the lights off in Washington, and in New York and in Maine,” Landrieu said. “This bill will never see the light of day unless Morganza is put back.”

Meanwhile, the American Soybean Association (ASA) offered support for the House bill as well as the Senate bill.

“ASA strongly supports enactment of waterways legislation that makes significant progress in repairing and revitalizing our aging waterways infrastructure,” said ASA President Danny Murphy. “U.S. soybean farmers rely on a healthy waterways infrastructure to move their soybeans to market.”

Murphy said the United States exports more than half of the soybeans grown in the nation.

“We are encouraged by many parts of the WRRDA bill and will work to see it passed,” Murphy said.

Murphy noted the House bill seeks to increase the amount of funding that is provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for port maintenance and dredging.

More reaction to the House bill is expected in the coming days as stakeholders absorb the 159-page bill.

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