Lawmakers release WRRDA conference report

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 15, 2014 - After announcing an agreement last week, House and Senate negotiators released details of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). The far-reaching legislation would authorize projects aimed at fixing ailing locks and dams, improving ports and waterways, restoring damaged ecosystems, and creating an estimated 500,000 new jobs.

Votes are expected on the conference report to H.R. 3080 as early as next week when both chambers are back in Washington. The House is in recess this week.

Both the House and Senate bills considered in conference enjoyed wide-bipartisan support when they were passed. The Senate approved its $12.5 billion version almost a year ago and the House followed suit with its $8.2 billion bill in October.

Several agricultural groups and the Waterways Council expressed support for the conference report - even though many were still digging through the details.

“From what we've seen so far, we are very pleased,” noted Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“This is a huge step forward to ensure the continued success of the soybean supply chain, and leaders in both the House and Senate deserve a great deal of credit for shepherding this bill through a challenging policymaking climate,” said American Soybean Association President and Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser.
The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) commended the WRRDA conference committee for completing work on this crucial legislation. 
“Recent rail service disruptions have magnified and reinforced the importance of the United States having an "all-of-the-above" transportation infrastructure policy that focuses on all modes - truck, rail, barge and vessel,” said NGFA President Randy Gordon.  

 

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Some conservatives have been critical of the spending authorized by the bill, but groups like Heritage Action have not yet weighed in with any formal comment.

 

"We're reviewing the details of the conference report,” explained Dan Holler, spokesperson for Heritage Action, late Thursday afternoon.

House members have been quick to point out that the bill contains no earmarks while making “major reforms to increase transparency, accountability, and Congressional oversight in reviewing and prioritizing future water resources development activities.”

“This measure will strengthen our nation's transportation network, keep America competitive in the global marketplace, and reform and streamline the way we move forward with improvements to our ports, locks, dams, and other water resources infrastructure,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

The panel's ranking member, Nick Rahall, D-W.V., noted that “investments made possible by this bill support jobs throughout the nation, on our waterways, our farms and fields, on shop floors and in our mines. WRRDA will lay the foundation for economic growth for many years to come, and I am grateful to my colleagues-House and Senate, Democratic and Republican-who worked so diligently to get us to where we are today.  This bill proves that bipartisanship is still alive on Capitol Hill.”

Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-La., pointed out the inclusion of the Morganza levee and flood protection project in the bill.

“Morganza to the Gulf, in addition to many other hurricane protection and coastal restoration projects, will be authorized and built. Morganza will protect our coast from future storm surge and protect our communities from flooding, providing relief to thousands of families and businesses in Louisiana.”

 

The NGFA said the bill contains several key provisions important to agriculture, including one that changes the funding mix for completing the long-delayed and over-budget Olmstead lock-and-dam project on the Ohio River.  Under the new bill, the federal government would assume 85 percent of the cost of completing the project, with funds from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (comprised of barge diesel fuel user fees) used to finance the remaining 15 percent.  This change in the former 50:50 cost-share formula will free up approximately $56 million a year in industry-paid user fees to fund much-needed restoration to dilapidated locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System. 

 

NGFA also pointed to reforms to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that will make more money available for port-dredging activities, as well as numerous key reforms to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' operations designed to streamline its project-delivery process and promote fiscal responsibility.  NGFA said these improvements will help maintain U.S. agricultural competitiveness in world markets and ensure U.S. farmers receive needed crop inputs to produce grains, oilseeds and other agricultural commodities.

  

Highlights of the bill are available here: http://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/wrrdabookletpostconflowres.pdf

A section-by-section summary is available here:

http://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/section_by_section_-_wrrda_conference_report.pdf

The full conference report is available here:

http://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/wrrda_conference_report.pdf

 

The House Transportation Committee issued a brief overview of the bill with the following highlights. It said the legislation:

·  Sets hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies

·  Consolidates or eliminates duplicative or unnecessary studies and requires concurrent reviews

·  Streamlines environmental reviews and improves coordination

·  Deauthorizes $18 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to WRDA 2007

·  More than fully offsets authorizations with deauthorizations

·  Sunsets new authorizations to prevent future project backlogs

·  Reduces the inventory of properties that are not needed for the missions of the Army Corps of Engineers.

·  Maximizes the ability of non-federal interests to contribute their own funds to move studies and projects forward

·  Expands the ability of non-federal interests to contribute funds to expedite the evaluation and processing of permits

·  Establishes a Water Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership Program and new options to expand the local role in project implementation

·  Creates innovative methods to invest in and finance water resources infrastructure and municipal drinking water and wastewater needs

·  Strengthens dam and levee safety

·  Improves Corps of Engineers responses to extreme weather events

·  Encourages resilient construction techniques and the use of durable, sustainable, and innovative materials

·  Authorizes needed investment in America's ports, strengthens ports that move the majority of the nation's commerce, and ensures equity for those ports that contribute the most to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund

·  Supports underserved, emerging ports

·  Reforms and preserves the Inland Waterways Trust Fund

·  Authorizes priority water resources infrastructure improvements recommended to Congress by the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation and commerce and address flood risk management, hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, and environmental restoration needs

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