House Committee advances waterways bill

Mark-up of House WRRDA bill streamlines delivery process of waterways funding and strengthens water transportation needs.

Thursday the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure unanimously approved bipartisan water resources reform legislation, and sets up potential floor action in October.

The committee held a markup on H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WRRDA), which is touted as cutting federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamlining the infrastructure project delivery process, fostering fiscal responsibility, and strengthening water transportation networks to promote America’s competitiveness, prosperity, and economic growth.  

Historically, Congress has passed such legislation every two years to provide clear direction to the Administration and the Corps, but no bill has been signed into law since 2007.  Committee chairman Bill Schuster (R., Pa.)  is "100% committed" to getting things back to regular order where bills will be considered every two years. This bill he said represents a good first step in establishing needed reforms and changes to the way the U.S. addresses waterways and infrastructure needs.

The bill offers no earmarks. In addition, it establishes a new, transparent process for future bills to review and prioritize water resources development activities with strong Congressional oversight. Schuster touted that the bill keeps oversight in Congress' hands, not the executive branch or Corps', which is "how it should be" as the elected body, he said.

The House bill specifically de-authorizes $12 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to the 2007 WRDA bill. And it full offsets new authorizations with de-authorizations. It also sunsets new authorizations to prevent future project backlogs, such as the poster child for the system's ineptness the Olmstead Lock and Dam with decades of backlogs and soaring costs.

Water Resources and Environment subcommittee chairman Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) also said that the bill empowers non-federal entities the ability to contribute to projects, and do so faster and more economically. Specifically it maximizes the ability of non-federal interests to contribute their own funds to move authorized studies and projects forward. It also expands the ability of non-federal interests to contribute funds to expedite the evaluation and processing of permits.

The committee did approve a manager's amendment which offered some minor changes to the original bill.

Agricultural interests encouraged the House Ways and Means Committee to include a barge fuel tax to improve the revenue stream for the Inland Waterway Trust Fund to ensure projects to not continue to fall behind.

“While we are very pleased with the action by the House Transportation Committee, the job is not done,” said National Corn Growers Assn. president Pam Johnson.  “In order to build the infrastructure approved by the Committee, we need the Ways and Means Committee to approve funding to come from the private sector to pay for it.”

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