Federal water legislation passes House

May 23, 2014

Last week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly (412 to 4) approved a water resources reform legislation package that supporters say cuts federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamlines the infrastructure project delivery process, fosters fiscal responsibility, and strengthens water transportation networks to promote America’s competitiveness, prosperity, and economic growth.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA) was introduced in the House by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R- PA), Committee Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II (D-WV), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Tim Bishop (D-NY).

The Conference Report represents the bipartisan, bicameral agreement between House and Senate conferees responsible for negotiating a final measure between the Houseand Senate-passed versions of the bill.

“It’s a bipartisan bill, and it is a jobs bill,” said Shuster. “It’s certainly going to create construction jobs, but the jobs I’m talking about are when America invests in its infrastructure and keeps us competitive.”

The act authorizes the construction of major navigation and flood risk management projects in a deficit neutral manner with no new direct spending, according to Sen. James M.

Inhofe (R-OK). The bill provides the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps of Engineers) the flexibility to work with non-federal sponsors such as states and local communities on planning assistance, feasibility studies, and project construction. Included are provisions that require the Corps to meet deadlines and more expediently resolve all environmental reviews, including the Endangered Species Act.

A number of agricultural organizations and groups applauded the House’s decision to move the legislation forward.

“We thank our representatives in the House for their near-unanimous support and work to ensure passage of this important legislation, which makes concrete steps toward repairing and improving our inland waterways,” said National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre. “WRRDA is crucial to farmers as more than 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports are transported by barge. The locks and dams we depend upon to transport our cargoes today were built in the 1920s and 1930s. It is imperative that we improve this crucial infrastructure. The need is urgent; U.S. farmers and businesses rely upon this transportation channel. Infrastructure improvements fuel our domestic economy and improve our ability to compete in markets abroad.”

NCGA specific ally thanked House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee members for bringing this negotiated bill to the floor of the House and for working to ensure its passage.

NCGA is also hopeful that Congress will soon address a proposed increase to the diesel fuel user fee, which would provide additional revenue to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. By increasing this tax between six and nine cents per gallon of fuel, the industries using the waterways would be able to provide needed funds for the improvement and maintenance of the infrastructure on which they rely.

American Farm Bureau Association also released a statement on the act, now out of conference and awaiting a vote on the House floor.

“Passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act is a priority issue for the American Farm Bureau Federation and our 6 million members who depend on an efficient and reliable inland waterway system linked to competitive ports,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.

“The ports, channels, locks, dams and other infrastructure that support our waterways transportation are vital to America’s ability to provide affordable agricultural products at home and abroad. WRRDA will bring $6 billion in total cost savings and important reforms to ensure the reliability and strength of our nation’s inland waterways and ports. It is imperative that Congress enact the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.”

Despite the overwhelming support for the Act, Taxpayers for Common Sense released an analysis calling the bill “a missed opportunity to reform management of our nation’s infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner.”

The four dissenting votes came from Republican representatives in Michigan, Texas, Kansas and Arizona.— Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor