Congress passes waterway blueprint bill

Congress passes waterway blueprint bill

Strong bipartisan votes send WRRDA to President for final signature.

SIX months of work to finalize a conference report for the Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WRRDA) came to a close as the House and Senate overwhelming approved the bill in a bipartisan fashion and sent it to the President for his final signature.

The House approved the measure by a vote of 412-4 last Tuesday, and the full Senate voted 91-7 on Thursday.

In a floor speech ahead of the vote, Senate Environment & Public Works Committee chair Barbara Boxer (D., Cal.) said the bill "rises above partisan politics."

The conference report makes important reforms to the nation's inland waterway 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.

WRRDA will bring $6 billion in total cost savings and important reforms to ensure the reliability and strength of inland waterways and ports, the American Farm Bureau Federation said in a statement.

National Corn Growers Assn. president Martin Barbre said WRRDA is crucial to farmers because more than 60% of the nation's grain exports are transported by barge.

"The locks and dams we depend upon to transport our cargoes today were built in the 1920s and 1930s," he said. "It is imperative that we improve this crucial infrastructure. The need is urgent; U.S. farmers and businesses rely upon this transportation channel. Infrastructure improvements fuel our domestic economy and improve our ability to compete in markets abroad."

According to a statement from the Illinois Farm Bureau, the flood protection, port improvements and upgrades to the nation's aging locks and dams authorized under WRRDA are long overdue.

"Having an efficient, reliable system of locks, dams and ports — as outlined in this bill — is critical if the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global marketplace," the statement says.

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

Boxer said the bill sets priorities that make sense for larger ports, smaller ports, the Great Lakes and the sea ports that are large donors to the fund.


Spill control provision

The bill also includes a provision (Section 1049) that addresses the Environmental Protection Agency's Spill Prevention, Control & Countermeasure (SPCC) regulation, which requires farmers and ranchers to make costly infrastructure investments to oil storage facilities.

The current SPCC rule for farms requires compliance if an operation has 1,320 gal. or more of aboveground fuel storage and allows self-certification for up to 10,000 gal. This not only covers 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, said the SPCC rule threatens the economic viability of rural America, and he applauded the work of the sponsors to include the provision, which will ease the burden of this rule for many farmers and ranchers across the nation.

Under the provision in WRRDA, the aggregate aboveground fuel exemption limit would be raised to 6,000 gal. for operations with no history of spills and no single tank with a capacity of 10,000 gal. or more. The provision will require a self-certified plan for operations that have aggregate aboveground fuel storage of more than 6,000 gal. but less than 20,000 gal., no history of spills and no single tank capacity of 10,000 gal. or more.

Moreover, the legislation exempts from the aggregate calculations any fuel tanks with a capacity of 1,000 gal. or less and all tanks that hold animal feed ingredients.

Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.), who worked to have the provision included in the House bill, said there's still more work to do, and he 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 EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct a study within one year of the bill becoming law to determine whether the 6,000 gal. aggregate aboveground storage exemption level poses a significant risk of 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 gal., but it cannot be lowered below 2,500 gal.

Volume:86 Issue:21

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