House passes water resources act by a wide margin

The Hagstrom Report |
Thursday, October 24, 2013 | Volume 3, Number 178

The House on Wednesday passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act by a vote of 417-3.

The passage of the act, which was viewed only a few months ago as a long shot because tea party conservatives might oppose it, has important implications for the transport and export of agricultural products in the coming years because it would authorize construction and repairs on the nation's locks and dams.

Michael Toohey

Waterways Council Inc. President Michael Toohey said the bill “will create American jobs, increase exports, and keep our nation competitive in world markets.”

“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,” Toohey said.

The Senate passed the bill earlier this year. The White House endorsed bill, but noted several provisions that it believes should be revised. (See link.)

The bill was the first major legislation to pass the House after the government shutdown, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised the House action.

“It’s another example of the people’s House focusing on ways to strengthen our economy and expand opportunity for all Americans, and I’m proud that it passed with a strong bipartisan vote,” Boehner said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Ohio, also urged passage, saying in a floor speech, “This is a fiscally responsible bill, one that will create jobs and ensure that America remains competitive in the global economy. It will encourage investing in our national water transportation networks while cutting red tape and streamlining the infrastructure project delivery process.”

The Waterways Council praised the legislation, saying it would:

  • Reform the project delivery processes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Create a prioritization of authorized improvements base upon risk of failure and economic return to the nation.
  • Provide adjustments to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) to allow funds to flow to construct authorized projects by changing the cost-share formula for the Olmsted project.
  • Recommend reform to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ process to deliver navigation projects on time and on budget.
  • Reduce the amount to be paid from the IWTF to complete the Olmsted project from 50 percent to 25 percent of the project’s remaining construction costs.
  • Increase spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for channel dredging and port modernization.

The Waterways Council noted that the navigation industry pays half of the cost of new construction and major rehabilitation of lock and dam projects from the IWTF, with the full majority of those funds going toward Olmsted’s completion with 24 other priority projects in need of funding.

Terry O’Sullivan

Terry O’Sullivan, general president of LIUNA, the Laborers' International Union of North America, called for quick completion of the bill.

“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.

Danny Murphy

American Soybean Association President Danny Murphy, a soybean farmer from Canton, Miss., also praised passage.

“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.”

Murphy noted that the Senate-passed bill with which the House bill will be conferenced includes similar provisions supported by ASA, which would:

Annually increase the amount of funding that is provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for port maintenance and dredging;
Streamline the process for Corps of Engineers projects and reduce project completion times;
Free up money and increase the capacity of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

Additionally, the Senate version includes an amendment supported by ASA that would exempt small farms that store oil in aboveground tanks from federal oil spill regulations, he said. 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 (SPCC).

Rules Committee — H.R. 3080, Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013
Office of Management and Budget — Statement of Administrative Policy on H.R. 3080
Waterways Council, Inc.