House T&I Committee signs off on Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2013
September 20, 2013
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday approved 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.
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. The Senate passed its own version of the bill earlier this year.
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
“This bill invests in our infrastructure and represents one of the only jobs bills that has been considered in this Congress,” said House T&I Committee Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II (D-WV) in a statement. “It boosts our ports, allows commodities to move more efficiently along our inland waterways, and enables our water transportation network to support increased economic opportunity. I hope that the full House can approve this measure with the same strong bipartisan spirit that our Committee has displayed in advancing it today.”
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 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 Director of Navigation Policy and Legislation Jim Walker told LM that it is a step in the right direction for this bill to move, adding it’s critical to for it to pass so port- and waterways-related projects can be authorized
“The reforms in the planning process in order to get things done more quickly to get construction underway is key,” said Walker. “It is a major step forward. Our goal was to get full use of the HMT revenues and this bill gets us a good ways there and maxing out at 80 percent by 2020 , which is well ahead of where we are now at $850 million a year. We are on a good path, not the full use we are seeking but certainly an increase and an improvement in what the Corps can do to maintain those channels for shippers and carriers.”
And AAPA 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.
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