Water Resources Development Act legislation heads to President’s desk to be signed into law

The United States Senate last week signed off on H.R. 3080 The Water Resources Act of 2014 by a 91-7 margin last week. The bill will now head to the White House to be signed into law by President Obama, which is widely expected by industry stakeholders.

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The United States Senate last week signed off on H.R. 3080 The Water Resources Act of 2014 by a 91-7 margin last week. The bill will now head to the White House to be signed into law by President Obama, which is widely expected by industry stakeholders.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in a conference report by 412-4 on May 20. 

Nearly two weeks before last week’s Senate vote, a foursome of Congressional lawmakers heavily involved in domestic transportation policy–– Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Senator David Vitter (R-LA), EPW Committee Ranking Member, and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), Transportation Committee Ranking Member–– hailed a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) conference report.

They said the conference report “maintains ports and navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods, provides flood control that protects lives and property, and restores vital ecosystems to preserve our natural heritage. This important measure will strengthen our Nation’s infrastructure and keep America competitive in the global marketplace.”

As previously reported in LM, House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) 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.
House T&I Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in September 2013 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.

Various components of the bill, H.R. 3080, 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 (the House version is known as the Water Resources Reform Act) 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.

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.

 


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