Congress overwhelmingly passes WRRDA

Strong bipartisan votes sends WRRDA to president for final signature.

In a floor speech ahead of a vote, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), said the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) bill “rises above partisan politics.”

And that’s exactly what the Senate did with a strong 91-7 vote in favor of the conference report that took six months to finalize. The House passed the bill earlier this week by a vote of 412-4 and now sends the bill to the President for final signature.

WRRDA is crucial to farmers as more than 60% of the nation’s grain exports are transported by barge. WRRDA will bring $6 billion in total cost savings and important reforms to ensure the reliability and strength of our nation’s inland waterways and ports. Agricultural groups contend an efficient, reliable system of locks, dams and ports allows the U.S. remain competitive.

A statement from the American Soybean Assn. said the conference report includes multiple soybean industry priorities including provisions that will free up significant funding within the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for additional waterways infrastructure projects; increasing the level of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars that will be spent on port maintenance and dredging; streamlining the Army Corps of Engineers’ project review process; increasing Corps flexibility to maintain navigation during low water events; and promoting the use of alternative financing and public-private partnerships to fund waterways infrastructure.

Boxer shared that the bill sets priorities that make sense for the larger ports, the smaller ports, the Great Lakes, and the sea ports that are large donors to the fund, such as the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The conference report also makes important reforms to the nation's inland waterways system, which is essential for transporting goods throughout the country. “These include efforts to expedite project delivery and better prepare for future floods and droughts that can slow or even stop navigation on the inland waterways,” Boxer said.

Spill control provision

Also included in H.R. 3080 is a provision (Section 1049) that addresses the EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations, requiring farmers and ranchers to make costly infrastructure investments to oil storage facilities.

The current EPA SPCC rule for farms requires compliance if an operation has 1,320 gallons, or more, of aboveground fuel storage and allows self-certification up to 10,000 gallons. This not only includes fuel storage but requires aboveground feed storage to be included in the total if it meets the broad definition of “oil” which includes the base of many liquid cattle feeds.

Bob McCan, National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. president and Victoria, Texas cattleman, said the SPCC rule threatens the economic viability of rural America, and thanked the work of sponsors to include the provision which will ease the burden of this rule across the nation for many farmers and ranchers.

Under the provision in the WRRDA legislation, the aggregate aboveground fuel exemption limit is raised to 6,000 gallons for operations with no history of spills and no single tank with a capacity of 10,000 gallons or more from having to develop a plan. The provision will require a self-certified plan for operations that have aggregate aboveground fuel storage above 6,000 and below 20,000 gallons with no history of spills and no single tank capacity of 10,000 gallons or more. Moreover, the legislation exempts fuel tanks with a capacity of 1,000 gallons or less and all tanks that hold animal feed ingredients from the aggregate calculations.

Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.), who worked to have the provision included in the House, said there’s still more work to do and plans to push for a higher SPCC exemption “that’s more reflective of a producer’s spill risk and financial resources.” 

The legislation also calls for a study to be conducted by the EPA and the USDA within one year of the bill becoming law to determine whether the 6,000 gallon aggregate aboveground storage exemption level poses a significant risk of a discharge to waters of the U.S. by agricultural operations. Based on the results of that study, the exemption level may be lowered from 6,000 gallons, but cannot be lowered below 2,500 gallons.

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