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House T&I Committee introduces Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2013

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
September 12, 2013

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday formally introduced H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA).

Committee officials said that through this type of water resources legislation, Congress authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out its missions 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 officials said that through this type of water resources legislation, Congress authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out its missions 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.

And while Congress has passed this legislation every two years to provide clear direction to the Administration and the Corps, a bill has not been signed into law since 2007. 

In introducing the bill, House T&I Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said that U.S. ports and waterways are highly essential, especially when considering that 99 percent of the goods the United States trades, sell, and import around the world go through U.S. ports, representing $1.4 trillion worth of goods every year.

But he pointed out that comes with a caveat, considering that the United States’ critical infrastructure is aging and the process for updating it is slow, costly, and filled with red tape.

“Something needs to be done, but Congress has not passed a water bill in six years, and as a result our country is losing its competitive advantage,” he said. “Meanwhile, the bureaucracy rides on as government-mandated studies have been going on for more than 15 years with no limit on spending, wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars and valuable time. We are literally studying our infrastructure to death, but we can do something about it with strong reforms and shortening the review time to three years. That is exactly what this bill does. It also puts a cap on how much we can spend on these studies.”

Various components of the bill are directly tied to the nation’s ports, with language focused on:
-authorizing needed investment in America’s ports;
-supporting underserved, emerging ports;
-reforming and preserving the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which pays for the construction and rehabilitation of the country’s inland waterways system; and
-authorizing priority water resources infrastructure improvements recommended 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

WRRDA also addresses the Harbor Maintenance Trust (HMT) Fund, which is comprised of revenues collected annually from importers and domestic shippers for deep-draft navigation maintenance dredging and the operation and maintenance of large and small ports.

Rep. Shuster said at a press conference introducing the bill yesterday that this bill does not provide any changes to how the HMT is applied. But he said the T&I Committee have set up a process where historically about 50 percent of the Harbor Maintenance Tax Trust Fund was spent on harbor maintenance, although this year that figure is now at 65 percent.

“What we have done [in the bill] is try to reform the process so that every year in inches up by 2 percent per year so that by 2020, 80 percent of the fund is spent on harbor maintenance,” said Shuster. “It is not something that gets fixed overnight…but it is a step in the right direction so that those dollars are spent in the way they were intended to be.”

The bill also sets out to establish a new transparent process for future bills to review and prioritize water resources development activities with strong Congressional oversight, according to the House Committee. One such way it is trying to do this is by not including earmarks, as well as setting hard deadlines on time and cost of studies, streamlining environmental reviews, and deauthorizing $12 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to the 2007 version of WRDA.

American Association of Port Authorities Public Affairs Director Aaron Ellis told LM that the HMT component of this bill—the Senate version released earlier this year has one as well—has been a sticking point for a long time for port stakeholders.

“Much of the money in the HMT Fund is used for other purposes aside from its intended purposes, which are to maintain America’s navigation channels, and both bills have provisions calling to substantially increase appropriations for that purpose or full utilization,” he said.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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