Water Resources Reform and Development Act signed into law
June 10, 2014
After a long overdue wait, the United States has new water resources legislation, with President Barack Obama officially signing H.R. 3080: The Water Resources Reform & Development Act of 2014 into law.
WRRDA was initially introduced by the Senate in October 2013 and then passed the House later that month, with the Conference report of the bill filed in the House in May. It was then passed by the House and Senate, prior to being signed off on by President Obama. This is the first water resources bill signed into law since 2007.
“As more of the world’s cargo is transported on these massive ships, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got bridges high enough and ports that are big enough to hold them and accommodate them so that our businesses can keep selling goods made in America to the rest of the world,” Obama said prior to signing the bill. “Meanwhile, many of America’s businesses ship their goods across the country by river and by canal, so we’ve got to make sure that those waterways are in tip-top shape. And this bill gives a green light to 34 water infrastructure projects across the country, including projects to deepen Boston Harbor and the Port of Savannah, and to restore the Everglades. And with Congress’s authorization, these projects can now move forward.”
Through WRRDA, 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;
-deauthorizing $12 billion of old, inactive projects that were funded prior to its 2007 bill;
-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 Fund (HMTF), 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.
The bill’s authors cited the American Society of Civil Engineers’ projection that at current funding levels there will be a $28 billion dredging shortfall by 2040, adding that each year half of the $1.8 billion collected by the HMTF is being used for its intended purposes. In the bill, WRRDA has target HMTF expenditures expanding annually so that by FY 2020 and beyond at least 80 percent of collected funds are allocated for port operations and maintenance. It also allocates 10 percent of annual HMTF expenditures for FY 2015 and 2016 on harbors with less than one million annual tons of throughput so that emerging ports, which have been ignored at times, are able to receive an equitable HMTF share to improve their harbors and be more competitive.
The HMT has long been a sticking point for port stakeholders, as historically much of the money in the HMT Fund has been used for other purposes aside from its intended purposes, which are to maintain America’s navigation channels.
WRRDA’s signing into law was welcomed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“In a year in which compromise has been difficult, the House, the Senate, and the administration have come together to enact critical, reform-focused water resources legislation that will not only enable strategic investment in our ports and waterways, but also increase American competitiveness and support well-paying U.S. jobs,” said Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten in a statement. “The projects that this investment enables will help increase our capacity to export American energy and agriculture and positively impact our ability to compete in the global economy. This is a win for both America’s infrastructure and for the overall economy, and an example of the progress that can be made when economic priorities trump politics.”
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