WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2013 – The House approved legislation (H.R. 3080) Wednesday, with a 417-3 vote, that seeks to 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 flood protection and environmental restoration needs.
The bipartisan Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) would cut federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamline the infrastructure project delivery process, promote fiscal responsibility, and strengthen aging water transportation networks, according to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa.
“WRRDA is the most policy and reform focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades,” Shuster said. Shuster reiterated the legislation contains no earmarks, and noted it would deauthorize $12 billion in funding for older projects in order to more than fully offset new authorized Corps activities.
“It has been six long years since we have passed water resources legislation,” said committee ranking member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. “The bipartisan bill approved today stops the finger in the dike solutions to our water infrastructure challenges and instead invests in these corridors of commerce which create jobs and support increased economic opportunity.”
Earlier Wednesday, the White House issued its support for House passage of the legislation, but said “it should be improved with additional reforms and modifications of problematic provisions.”
In a statement of administration policy, the White House said it supports provisions in the bill to de-authorize projects that no longer meet the nation’s needs or have become too costly.
However, the administration said the bill would authorize the Corps to construct several new projects that the administration has not recommended for authorization due to their marginal return on investment or other concerns.
And, the statement noted the bill would shift “significant costs” to the taxpayer that are currently the responsibility of barge operators on inland waterways, and would expand the federal role in the maintenance of coastal ports to areas that have historically been a non-federal responsibility.
The administration said it is concerned that the project permitting and delivery provisions in the bill may slow project approval and would not adequately protect communities, taxpayers, or the environment.
Stakeholders now expect the House bill will be sent to conference with the Senate-passed Water Resources Development Act (S. 601), which 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.
Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association, said his organization is pressing for passage of a bill by the end of the year.
“Soybeans are the nation’s leading farm export, and each bushel we export depends on our waterways infrastructure, whether that’s in the form of a river channel, a lock and dam, or a port,” Murphy said. “Unfortunately, in recent years, each of those elements has begun to suffer due to lack of upkeep and investment, and this bill takes a great step to reversing that trend.”
ASA said the Senate bill includes provisions to annually increase the amount of funding that is provided for port maintenance and dredging; to streamline the process for Corps of Engineers projects and reduce project completion times; and to free up money and increase the capacity of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
Additionally, ASA said the Senate version includes an amendment that would exempt small farms that store oil in aboveground tanks from federal oil spill regulations. The amendment would set storage tank thresholds below which agricultural operations would be excluded from U.S. EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Rule.
The Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI), said it appreciates the legislation’s commitment to improvements on dredging and adjustments to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, among other things.
“The nation’s towboat operators, shippers, labor, port, conservation and agriculture group members that rely on an efficient, modern, viable waterways system are deeply appreciative for the passage of WRRDA today,” said WCI president and chief executive officer Michael Toohey. “After a six-year delay since the last water resources reauthorization, WCI and its members await conference between the House and Senate for a strong final bill that should be signed in law by the president,” he said.
Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the bill would strengthen the nation’s competiveness and create needed jobs in the construction sector.
“Once enacted, these long overdue reforms will authorize urgently needed investments in our nation’s lock and dam infrastructure, upgrade deficient levees and maintain our ports, harbors and other key navigation channels,” O’Sullivan said.
For more news, visit www.agri-pulse.com